"Glad News of the Natural World"
(Reviewed by Guy Savage NOV 16, 2006)
"My father enjoyed dismantling people the way a man might demolish a barn. He’d start with the trim and the hardware, take issue with stray fond beliefs, but gingerly and in a cordial manner, before setting about to remove the siding a clapboard at a time. He’d ask after the car a fellow drove, the religion he subscribed to, the shows he watched, the work he did, the hobbies he pursued. And once my father had made his way entirely down to the raw framing, he’d locate the posts or stays or trusses holding the structure up and proceed to tell the candidate at hand why his core convictions were benighted rubbish."
Glad News of the Natural World by T.R. Pearson is the sequel to the author’s earlier novel A Short History of a Small Place, but it’s certainly not necessary to read the earlier novel in order to make sense of Pearson’s latest book. In Glad News of the Natural World, narrator Louis Benfield is back again, and at the ripe age of thirty-four, he’s supposed to be more-or-less grown up. When the novel begins, Louis is living in Neely, North Carolina, and our hero has rediscovered former high school girlfriend Fay—who now sports a “diamond navel stud.” Louis was Fay’s boyfriend in high school for almost an entire month while she was “between linebackers.” Now fresh from a marriage annulment, Fay, a lithesome, tattooed “situational virgin” reconnects with Louis—mainly in the back of Louis’s Honda Civic. Despite Louis’s mother’s “prayer and scattershot hopefulness,” and his father’s lectures, Louis and Fay are an item once again. Louis’s parents promptly ship their son off to New York by arranging for a job with the Meridian Life and Casualty Company. Louis’s new job in New York is designed to disrupt the relationship with Fay, and also to put Louis on track with a sensible career. But Louis doesn’t "fit in" the insurance business, and he creates an alternate career out of avoiding responsibility. He frankly admits: “I’m largely wasted, only spottily engaged and, for a robust thirty-four-year-old, almost criminally unambitious.” Louis drifts from one hilarious misadventure to another on the road to maturity, and Pearson’s diverse array of quirky, odd and downright strange characters are treated with affectionate amusement in this entertaining novel.
Once unleashed in New York, rather than being upwardly mobile, Louis spirals downward. While his roommates morph into insurance company clones in one depressing fashion or another, Louis becomes the unofficial "fix-it" man, and applies his talent to fixing numerous small appliances around the office. Louis’s stint as appliance odd-job man doesn’t last long, and he’s soon cast out. While he longs to be an actor, this ambition translates into a tortured relationship with a manipulative actress, and numerous toss-able plays. The best Louis can do as an actor is to become a piece of “advertising flotsam” with a shady character named Sal. Louis scrapes a living by hovering in the background of various newscasts and advertisements. Eventually Louis’s connection with Sal leads to a relationship—of sorts—with a mobster who relies on his basement freezer for nefarious functions. Working for the mobster is certainly lucrative, but unsettling, and Louis wryly admits, “I was a victim, essentially, of my own competence and reliability.”
This picaresque novel with its slacker narrator is packed with bizarre characters—no one here is "normal," and these people are so funny, it’s enough to make you want to move next to Louis at times. The author however, has a tendency to sit and spin when a new character is introduced. For example, Louis is recalled to Neely when Aunt Sister is ill. Louis arrives in the hospital, and the doctor discusses Aunt Sister’s condition with Louis. The novel doesn’t move forward, but spends about 6 pages on Louis’s recollection of a memory of his quirky Aunt. This sort of discursive narration is distracting but frequent in the novel, and the plot lacks momentum at such points. The author’s descriptions of his parents and the political intricacies of their marriage are priceless, however, and if you are seeking a non-challenging, sweet, funny and slightly sentimental read, then you’re likely to enjoy Glad News of the Natural World.
- Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Glad News of the Natural World at SimonSays.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Off the Sweet Hereafter (1986)
- The Last of How It Was (1987)
- Call and Response (1989)
- Gospel Hour (1991)
- Cry Me a River (1993)
- Blue Ridge (2000)
- Polar (2002)
- True Cross (2003)
Neely, North Carolina books:
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- By Stander conversation with T. R. Pearson
- Jackson Free Press interview with T. R. Pearson (May 2005)
- SlushPile.Net interview with T. R. Pearson (September 2006)
- New York Times review of Polar
- The Wag review of Polar
- BookPage review of Glad News of the Natual World
- Read an excerpt from Seaworthy
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About the Author:
Thomas Reid Pearson was born in 1966 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He earned a BA and MA in English from the North Carolina State University. He taught at Pearce College in Raleigh, NC, left to work on a Ph.D in Pennsylvania, but soon left to return to North Carolina. After returning, he worked on this first two novels while working as a carpenter and housepainter. However, neither of these novels were published until he moved to New York in 1985.
He lives in Appalachian areas of Virginia.