Glad News of the Natural World
Louis Benfield, All Grown Up
A review by Anna Godbersen
What does the world hold for a "criminally unambitious" man "distinguished by [his] penmanship," a taste for Kiehls, and a misplaced pride in his job with a Brooklyn car service? In the case of Louis Benfield, the narrator of T.R. Pearson's exhaustingly hilarious Glad News of the Natural World, that would be frustration, indignity, and unappetizing meals galore. Louis (the adolescent hero of Pearson's debut novel, A Short History of a Small Place, now mostly grown up) is trying to make it not only in the world, but in New York City, where he is driven by "an overstimulated ardor for all things cosmopolitan." After being fired from Meridian Life and Casualty (where his father, of the Neely, North Carolina Meridian office, had arranged for his employment), Louis plays a small part in a "squatter's drama-circle event," which leads to gigs in toothpaste commercials and as the fix-it man for a gangster named Bunny. Other characters bearing mixed blessings and inconsistencies include Teddy the Yemeni cabdriver (so-called because his driving skills bring to mind a certain Kennedy); Sal Delgado, an actor's agent specializing in mediocre, background talent; and Rachel, Louis's crush, who would be a hooker with a heart of gold-type, except that there are precious few hearts of gold in this particular story. (Although there are plenty of females with lusty natures and Darwinian instincts.)
Pearson's is a sharply observed and not particularly optimistic worldview; he relates a story teeming with the fickle and the mercenary. But near the end of this picaresque (in which Louis fumbles at establishing a life away from hometown Neely, at finding success and love), he does allow his protagonist some modicum of hope and affection in this world.
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