Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pacific by Tom Drury - Book Review

Pacific by Tom Drury (Grove/Atlantic, 2013, 208 pages, $25.00) set in the chilly world of rural Minnesota and the warm, loosy goosey world of Southern California is held together by fourteen year old Micah Darling who moves from living with his small time crook father Tiny Darling and his partner to California, where his mother Joan has become a minor television star and film actress. The novel follows the aimless lives of too many characters to keep straight as they seek meaning and connection to others in their lives. The book is written from a distance, as in a dream, observed from above through a haze of marijuana, alcohol, and loss of direction and meaning. Apparently, the characters in Pacific represent a return to a novel published twenty years ago, The End of Vandalism.

Joan has decided she wants to reunite with her son Micah, whom she has left some years earlier to pursue a career in acting, which has been mildly successful. Micah makes the transition to California with relative ease, meets two girls, Thea and Charlotte, who befriend him and introduce him to the hedonistic world of teenagers in the world of Hollywood. All three become friends, although Micah is ineluctably drawn to the self-destructive Charlotte. Joan, meanwhile, wins a role in a fantasy about the ghost of Davy Crockett on the casting couch before entering too easily into an affair with the screen writer, ruining her marriage. Micah drifts through life, as do the other characters.

Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, a former Sherrie, an antique forger, a mad woman who fancies herself a Celtic warrior/mystic, an antique dealer and other mismatched characters continue to miss connections which only very gradually make sense as a crime becomes clear. Perhaps the problem here lies in too many characters not carefully enough delineated keep this slim volume confusing, disconnected. The characters in both settings live in a world where people are looking for connections, often in a haze of sex and drugs, and missing. The narrative retains an abstracted distance from the characters who seem almost in a dream world where they collide without connecting. I finally tried to track the connections by charting them, but this didn't even really help enough. Perhaps the book stands as a parable for modern life in which people touch without connecting. The contrast between Stone City in the Midwest, where life is hard, cold, unforgiving, Midwestern and Southern California's warm, sun-drenched easy life only reinforces the human difficulty of making connections. 

Tom Drury

   Although Drury successfully creates a haunting, lost tone to this re-imagining of characters created two decades ago, the novel is ultimately unsatisfying in its efforts to explore and contrast a variety of only lightly illuminated people. Tom Drury's Pacific is published by Grove/Atlantic (2013, 208 pages, $25.00) was made available to me in a digital pre-publication galley by Edelweiss.