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T.R. Pearson
244 pp.

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The Wag Chats with
T.R. Pearson

T.R. Pearson discusses his new novel, Polar, and tells us why he thinks his narrators' voices are critical to his novels' plots.

WAG: One of the more striking aspects of Polar is the way its loquacious narrator indulges his storyteller's knack for letting meandering, shaggy-dog stories carry his main storyline along. It's almost as if you've inverted the main plot and the subplots, in terms of their presence on the page. Were you ever worried that your unusual approach might not work—that, in essence, your reader might feel as though he had gotten lost in the labyrinth of forking subplots? Or did you always have faith in the novel's pitch-perfect depiction of a spoken narrative?

Pearson: If I'm employing a first-person narrator, as is the case in Polar, I feel I have an obligation to make that narrator as human as possible—equipped with both virtues and frailties. Like people, my narrators have a difficult time getting to the point, which can be exasperating. When I edit a manuscript, I try to keep the exasperation to a minimum, but I never attempt to do away with it entirely. If the narrator's voice is untrue, the plot is essentially pointless, as far as I'm concerned.

WAG: How hard do you have to work to get a narrator's voice down? Polar's narrative voice seems to flow effortlessly without any false notes, but I would think it makes the writing process akin to composing music.

Pearson: I write almost exclusively with my ear. I know when the voice sounds persuasive to me and genuine, but I can't truly say how I know.

WAG: Polar is also full of wonderfully drawn characters whose backstories vie aggressively with the main plot for the reader's attention. Which usually comes first for you—plot or character?

Pearson: Characters tend to come fully to mind from the inception of a book, but I start a novel with only a vague sense of where the story is going. The fun for me is in finding out what happens.

WAG: You've worked with recurring characters in your earlier novels, and Ray Tatum, who investigates the missing girl case at the heart of Polar, is a comfortable, likeable character who seems destined to appear in another novel, no matter where it's set. What are the benefits and drawbacks of working with recurring characters? And would you indeed work with Ray Tatum again?

Pearson: The chief drawback is the temptation for my publisher to identify the Ray Tatum books as a series. I've taken great pains to insure that the Ray Tatum novels—Cry Me A River, Blue Ridge and Polar—can stand entirely alone. I would hope a reader who tackles all three would find the ties among them enriching, but they can be read singly as well without much sacrifice. As to the benefits, I certainly know Ray Tatum as well as I know any actual person, if not slightly better. And I like him without qualification, so I suspect I'll spend at least one more novel with him.

WAG: Polar deals, at least in part, with family, loneliness and the need for love, among other things. Are those among the abiding themes you most like to explore in fiction?

Pearson: They're offshoots of the characters, most particularly Ray's character. He's a vagabond, lonely by nature, and his melancholy infuses Polar.

WAG: Are those themes distinctly Southern?

Pearson: Probably not.

WAG: Where do you think Southern literature stands today? Is the Southern voice in good shape?

Pearson: The Southern voice is in fine shape. I doubt we'll ever see a shortage of Southern fiction. We are a gabby sort.

WAG: Finally, two related questions. Many writers have a favorite 'neglected' writer—someone they think has been unfairly ignored by the general reading public. Do you have one yourself? And who do you think is the best under-appreciated writer working today?

Pearson: I do. W.T. Tyler. I am particularly fond of a novel of his entitled Rogue's March which is positively brilliant. If the world were a fair place, Tyler would be renowned throughout it.

—Interview conducted by Doug Childers

Posted June 1, 2002


Photo Credit: T.E. Pearson

T.R. Pearson's seven widely acclaimed novels include A Short History of a Small Place, Cry Me a River and Blue Ridge. He lives in Virginia.



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