‘Pacific’ by Tom Drury (2013) – 194 pages
No, I did not rediscover Tom Drury. Jon McGregor and Mark Lawson, in two excellent articles in the Guardian, did that. I am just the self-designated reader from the United States who decided to follow their advice and read Tom Drury.
First I will quote from the Jon McGregor article:
“These people are, in very particular ways, downright odd. As all of us are. In the stories of our own lives things happen moment by moment, and we keep getting stranger, and this is the truth Drury is leading us to here.
But if you live in the real world, where life stalls and lurches forward with little real pattern and where the textures of our relationships accumulate moment by moment, then this is a novel you will recognize as being crammed with narrative.”
And now from the Mark Lawson article:
“In a similar way, Drury plaits together multiple plot lines that have a unifying quality of fretful oddness.
As the connections between these weirdnesses become clearer, the serious business is Drury’s prose. The style is slyly wry, so that a reference to “a locally famous taxidermist who had his own radio show” has gone past before you start to wonder just how the stuffing of animals would work on the wireless. This is also a writer who can go from laughter to darkness in an instant, as when, after what has seemed to be a tender sex scene, a woman reflects: “This was the best, the most bearable loneliness.”
Later Lawson compares Drury’s minimalist writing style to that of Raymond Carver’s. Upon reading these two Guardian articles, I absolutely had to read Tom Drury. Now after reading ‘Pacific’, I must say that my reactions to Drury’s writing style were not nearly so positive as these two Guardian writers.
The story in ‘Pacific’ alternates between two venues, the rural town of Stone City in Grouse County, Iowa and a place near Hollywood in Los Angeles. As ‘Pacific’ begins, actress Joan Gower has returned to her original home in Stone City to take back to Hollywood her son Micah whom she had left with her ex-husband Tiny Darling seven years earlier. Joan stars in the TV crime show ‘Forensic Mystic’, and she has been offered a lead role in a movie about Davy Crockett called ‘The Powder Horn’.
So the story goes back and forth between Stone City, Iowa and Hollywood. There is a murder plot in Iowa and in Hollywood Micah makes some new friends as Joan’s second marriage falls apart.
The two Guardian writers are correct that Tom Drury has a unique style of minimalism, but I’m not sure that is such a good thing. Characters in ‘Pacific’ are not introduced. They just show up and start doing stuff. Peripheral characters keep showing up, and Drury gives no indication as to their importance or unimportance to the plot. Frequently there are a few lines about a specific character, but then he or she is just dropped and never re-appears in the novel. Instead of well-developed characters, we get people who might as well be ants going aimlessly about their colonies. I’m sure that Tom Drury is making a valid point about the haphazardness of human life, but I still found all this random behavior by characters rather tiresome in a novel. The reader stays on the shallow end in regard to these characters and never goes any deeper no matter how many times we encounter them.
Another difficulty I had with ‘Pacific’ is the flat uniformity of the sentences. Every sentence seemed to be short and declarative with the standard “subject, verb, object” form. I could have used much more variety in the sentence structures. This sameness made me wonder what I liked so much about the minimalist style at one time
Basically it all comes down to the Pleasure Principle. I can understand why these Guardian writers appreciate the quirkiness of the writing of Tom Drury. However I found myself on each chapter after reading only a few pages, wishing the chapter would end so I could quit reading. In other words, I was not getting enough pleasure from my reading to sustain my attention.
Perhaps I should have read Drury’s ‘The End of Vandalism’ instead, as by all accounts that is his best novel.