Sunday, November 27, 2005

Glad News of the Natural World

The last time I went to the library, I grabbed three books by authors I'd never heard of, all based on the book jackets. The first had its moments, but ultimately was a disappointment. The second, T. R. Pearson's Glad News of the Natural World, would be my book of the year, if I did enough reading of current fiction to make such a declaration meaningful. Pearson's protagonist, Louis Benfield, was the central character in an earlier novel, but I can assure you that it is unnecessary to read that book to appreciate our narrator. Benfield is a Carolinian in New York -- NYC may be a scary city to some, particularly non-natives, but somehow Benfield is able to create a niche for himself. He's unable to keep a steady job, but he's nevertheless able to make a living. He keeps looking for love in the wrong places, but at least by the end of the book he seems more aware of just what he should be looking for.

The humor is wry, evocative of a Southern Garrison Keillor, though that comparison does an injustice to both Pearson and Keillor, as each speaks in a unique voice. I read several passages to Kathy, and felt I could have read several more, but for the fact that I want her to read it herself (I renewed it, so she has a couple of weeks to do so). My favorite chapter is about the death of his great, aunt, a.k.a. Aunt Sister, juxtaposing the sad occasion of the present with family lore of what sort of person she was. Indeed, the manner in which he weaves her story, combined with the priceless details themselves, make it one of my favorite chapters ever (side note -- does anyone actually rate book chapters, the way people rate songs rather than the albums? I know that I haven't, but I still feel safe in declaring this chapter among my favorites).

I don't know that anyone who reads this book will walk away smarter, but I'd nevertheless expect them to be affected by the experience. As for me, I'll be adding some of Pearson's earlier works to my holiday wishlist.

Rating: 10/10