For his tenth novel, Pearson reaches back to his first (A Short History of a Small Place, 1985), pressing into service again Louis Benfield of Neely, North Carolina.
Louis is now 34, an agreeable but utterly unambitious fellow, still in Neely and working as a gofer for a guy installing kitchen counters, when he runs across a former girlfriend, Fay, “a situational virgin” with only a magnificent physique to commend her. Louis’s father curtails his son’s infatuation by sending him off to New York, where he has arranged a job and an apartment and where the rest of the story takes place, save for short trips back home. Louis will start out as a trainee actuary with his father’s old company, but he proves better at fixing broken coffeepots than crunching numbers and ends up in the basement with Maintenance. There’s not much plot here; Louis gets canned, but his downward drift is cushioned by his skills as a repairman. His finest hour comes when he fixes a Frigidaire for a minor-league godfather while assorted Mafiosi watch from the shadows. He’ll also pick up work as an extra in TV commercials and as a driver for a Yemeni car service of last resort (after the Lebanese and the Egyptians). His inexperience with the ladies is revealed in his hopeless pursuit of an Oklahoman actress masquerading as Romanian royalty, and of a classy call girl who successfully poses as his girlfriend when his parents visit. That’s a tried-and-true comic formula, but Pearson puts his own spin on it. What really tests his own brand of rueful comedy is the gruesome death of both Louis’s parents in a car accident. He does pretty well, backing slowly into the carnage, then having Louis honor his parents by refusing ex-girlfriend Fay’s blandishments. She’d always been their bête noire.
Not one of Pearson’s best, but riding the wave of his highly spiced prose is still a pleasure of its own.