Last year I read a really excellent book called Blue Ridge that featured the kind of slow burn lore and quasi-biblical rhythms of the best Southern literature blended with a dash of down-homey humour and hung on a couple of murder mysteries. I felt like I’d found, in T.R. Pearson, a writer who could merge genres and temper the serious with the comic to avoid the sombre. As it happens, I was only partly right. Blue Ridge did indeed show that Pearson is capable of all those things, but I’ve since learned that it was the exception rather than the rule. Pearson, it seems, leans more in the direction of the yokelisms than the Southern gothic or the murder mystery, and Polar featured far more of that sort of thing than I was in the market for. It does feature Ray Tatum, my favourite character from Blue Ridge and still my favourite Pearson character overall.
Most of Polar focuses on a character named Clayton, who is a none too discerning pornography enthusiast and local layabout. He tends to involve himself in and create a certain amount of mild local mischief until one day in line at the grocery store something inside him snaps and he turns into a kind of backwoods clairvoyant. His statements are not much less cryptic than those of Nostradamus, though they tend to resolve themselves with something that resembles immediacy. So much time is spent poking not so gentle fun at this hideous porn-loving man-ape that the mystery supposedly at the core of the book, about the disappearance of a little girl in the woods, goes largely neglected. When Pearson does bother with that story, it’s mostly to satirize the media-related ambitions of the missing girl’s mother. When the case is finally resolved (in its way), it is incredibly anti-climactic, and there’s far more important and emotionally significant events yet to come. While Blue Ridge seemed like a genuine effort to engage with crime drama, Polar seems more like an excuse to revisit popular characters in that author’s more accustomed mode. The book was by no means bad, but it wasn’t at all what I expected, and I came away more than a little unsatisfied.
Next is T.R. Pearson’s True Cross.