T.R. Pearson's latest slice of small-town life
In Polar, Deputy Ray Tatum has two mysteries to solve: the disappearance of Angela Dunn, a wordless child who wanders into the woods, never to be seen again by her parents, and the sudden prophetic powers of the formerly worthless Clayton, a shiftless town institution best known for his preference for the porn channel. One mystery will be solved, while the other remains tantalizingly out of reach.
But these strong narrative engines are not what really drives Polar, T. R. Pearson's latest novel. What Pearson seeks to do, instead, is capture the feel of small town life and the myriad personalities that give it texture, without resorting to the usual platitudes that pretend such towns have more than their share of unspoiled innocence. In other words, Pearson's small-town Virginia is no Mayberry. Nor is it inhabited by the Cleavers.
The novelist thinks nothing of interrupting the flow of his narrative to give the life story of a minor character who may never appear in the book again. This doesn't constitute an aesthetic flaw. After all, the true, unvarnished motivations of man are what Polar is really all about.
It's about characters like Ivy Vaughn, a woman who remains in such a high dudgeon she never pays attention to the road and leaves a trail of dead animals in her wake. It's also about Mrs. Dunn, who turns the loss of her daughter and husband into profit, launching a career as a radio celebrity whose collective losses make her an authority on flagging American morals.
And, of course, there is Clayton, whose television satellite is arced over his garage at an angle that betrays, for all to observe, his addiction to televised erotica. Clayton seems an unlikely candidate to be blessed with the gift of second sight. But fate, which has a definite sense of humor in a T.R. Pearson novel, chooses Clayton to become a small-time, small-town prophet.
Only Deputy Tatum is able to turn Clayton's obscure prognostications to good purpose in his search for Angela. Motivated by the haunting memory of his own dead child, Ray pursues Angela's story long after the media, the FBI and even the girl's parents have given her up for lost. Using the prism of Tatum's grief, Pearson critiques small-town pretensions and, by extension, America's chronic hypocrisies.