e're used to reading about lonely women whose lives revolve around the quest for a man. Literary tradition has long dictated that lonely fictional men, on the other hand, be cynically heroic, adventurous, living large lives, and taking large risks because they have nothing to lose.

In Blue Ridge, T.

R. Pearson challenges that tradition with a vengeance, giving us two lonely men who wander, lost as six-week-old puppies, through the wastelands of their own lives. It's not that Ray Tatum and his cousin Paul Tatum don't hold jobs or occupy reasonably respectable homes. They do. It's their private, unspectacular tragedies that make them interesting the way they're haunted by past failure, the way they can't get a break from women, and their total failure at heroism.

Paul is an actuary, a job not ordinarily freighted with heroic opportunity. He likes tidy corners and straight sofa cushions. He can't even win the loyalty of the dog he adopted from the pound. Ray's job as deputy sheriff is theoretically more stimulating, but Ray is doomed to sacrifice justice to small town politics. It's tempting to say that Blue Ridge is a seedy, white man's Waiting to Exhale minus the happy ending.

Shaking up this stagnant psychic terrain is Kit, a super competent, beautiful, African-American forest ranger who threatens to steal the whole show with her low tolerance for small town nonsense. Kit is the kind of lady who can break up with her boyfriend long distance and throttle a redneck racist at the same time pay phone in one hand, windpipe in the other. The wreck she'll make of Ray's heart is such a foregone conclusion it hurts. Stylistically, Blue Ridge is a tour de force. Playing on reader expectation, Pearson pens two completely separate story lines (two subplots, if you will) that are brought together only in the last three pages of the book. This means the novel's brilliant cohesion is in debt not to the plot, but to the subtle ways the two men's lives run parallel.

Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.

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