I am seem to be hopelessly behind in my reading these days – as are most book bloggers I would imagine. A while back I received Glad News of the Natural World by T.R. Pearson in the mail. Since this was a follow-up to his “breakout” novel A Short History of a Small Place I thought it would be worthwhile to read that first. I managed to do so, and posted a review in May, but then it took me awhile to get to Glad News. [ Now it has taken even longer to post a review] I am glad I persevered and read it, however, as it turned out to be one of the better books I have read this year. It is sure to bring a smile to your face. I found myself chuckling regularly and my wife kept insisting I read sections out loud so she could share the humor. If you enjoy wry and witty prose, larger than life characters that nevertheless perfectly capture the outrageous nature of life you will want to read T.R. Pearson.
A Short History focused on the fictional town of Neely, North Carolina and is narrated by the thirteen-year-old Louis Benfield. Glad News finds the thirty-four-year-old Louis transplanted to New York City. His retired father has found him a job at this old company Meridian Life and Casualty. The job also comes with a apartment, but it is a rather beat up one bedroom that Louis must share with three rather odd roommates.
Following in the footsteps of his actuarial genius father proves too much for Louis. He simply isn’t cut out for the life of a corporate worker bee. Instead, he manages to hang on at Meridian as a general, yet unofficial, handyman. But soon a woman comes into his life and changes all that. What follows is a rollicking, and even touching, look at finding yourself and your place in the world.
I won’t even bother trying to describe the plot elements as they are not really important except as hooks for the hilarious character sketches and anecdotes Pearson throws out with each twist and turn. Publisher’s Weekly calls Louis a “shiftless narrator” and complains that the story “rambles gracefully without ever quite getting anywhere.” I suppose this is true, but I find it beside the point. This isn’t the kind of book you read for a tight plot and a gripping narrative. You read this to enjoy the quirky characters and the laugh out loud antics Louis gets into while interacting with these oddballs.
In fact, I thought that A Short History was a great deal more rambling and hard to follow than Glad News. One reason why is that Glad News is broken into shorter chapters so you can more easily read an savor smaller slices. A Short History reflected the more Southern nature of its setting while Glad News reflects the outrageous and madcap world of New York City. The combination of Louis in NYC is what gives it that extra zip. Booklist captures it much better: “Pearson has an uncanny knack for mixing melancholy and mayhem. Oozing with pitch-perfect satire, this gleefully peculiar offering reads like William Faulkner on wry.”
If you are looking for summer read, I highly recommend Glad News of the Natural World. Given all the ugliness in the world, and all the “serious” writing out there, who couldn’t use a laugh? Careful about reading this when others are around, however, as strangers might think you odd while friends and family members will demand to know what you are laughing at.