Sunday, January 4, 2015

"Glory be to God for dappled things": A Review of Tabitha King's "Pearl"

Hi, all. I've decided to do something I've never attempted before: keeping record of every book I read in 2015 and blogging about them. It will be neat to see how many books I've read and what I thought of them right after reading once December 31st comes 'round again. It's a daunting task, but one I feel I should do (mostly because once I decide I want to do something, my OCD won't quit 'til I do said thing). The first book I read in 2015? Why, it's this lovely one:

Started: December 30th, 2014
Finished: January 1st, 2015

Okay, okay -- so I read more of Pearl in 2014 than in 2015, but I rang in the new year finishing up this bad boy (that's my way of saying I am cooler than all of you, k thx bai) so it counts, dangit.

First things first: Tabitha does NOT write like her husband, well-known author Stephen King. I almost put the word "horror" before author there, but that would have been an error on my part because, while Stephen DOES tend to write scary stories, they are so much more than senseless slasher bloodgutsgorevomit like some folks tend to believe. #soapbox Anyway, Tabby's style definitely leans more toward contemporary fiction with healthy servings of drama. Not stupid, pointless drama, but enthralling "I-can't-believe-this-is-happening-to-those-I-love" drama. Yeah, good stuff.

The novel begins with Pearl Dickenson coming into Nodd's Ridge, the town King's previous two novels were set in. The first paragraph of Pearl is a good one, and I shall quote it for all of you:

'Learning the other ways into Nodd's Ridge, the back roads, takes a lifetime of living there. Since she was from away, Pearl Dickenson arrived by way of Route Five. The first thing she saw was the view for which the Ridge was famous. One comes upon the skyward folding of the land into the White Mountains as a sudden revelation: all at once the woods open up around the individual houses of the village, standing apart from each other in a community of privacy, their backs to the ancient splendid hills. The lake is a wedge of sapphire in the middle ground between, a blue tear in all that rooted rock and green hallelujah of trees. Pearl forgot she was looking for this very place. Swinging into the scenic turnout, she gawked like a thousand other passers-through. 
      'Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,' she said aloud. 'I've died and gone to heaven.'"

Like her husband, Tabitha King has a gift for creating small northeastern towns, using words on the page to create a clear image in the reader's mind. Pearl is the great niece of Nodd's Ridge caretaker Joe Nevers (a character from a previous Tabitha King novel), and she has come to claim the inheritance he has left for her after his passing: his home and vehicles. The first couple of chapters are basically just Pearl arriving at the house, exploring it and moving in, discovering the cemetery beside the old house, finding the grave-markers of a few relatives of hers, and musing on life and death. It's not really slow, but the pace of the novel doesn't pick up until Pearl buys the old local diner (after some vigorous dickering with the crusty, elderly owner) and transforms it from a nasty little place in Nowhere, Maine, to a place where one can enjoy great food and excellent service (provided by Pearl, teenager Karen, and former diner owner Roscoe).

Aside from situations at the diner, the majority of the book focuses on Pearl's budding relationship with local auto mechanic and part-time caretaker Reuben Styles as well as her side-affair with flighty poet David Christopher, whose younger years can be fully explored in Tabitha's earlier novel Caretakers. I must admit, if I had any problems with the book it was Pearl's simultaneous affairs. I feel like it went on just a little too long to be believable, because this is Nodd's Ridge -- a place so small that everyone almost always knows each others business, and Pearl is able to keep this hidden for months. I don't know. It didn't bother me TOO badly, I guess, because the author paints Pearl so sympathetically that the reader DOESN'T want anyone to find out what's going on -- they just want her to be happy and stop spreading herself so thin at the diner. David and Reuben, like Pearl (and, well, every other character here) are fully-drawn characters. They have good qualities as well as flaws, but that's true for anyone. David is flighty and . . . strange, but it's justifiable: his sister was murdered in the lake when he was young, and he's recently lost his mother to cancer. Reuben is a strong, level-handed guy, but he's recently been divorced and having trouble making his kids (waitress Karen and teenage son Sam, whom we see more of in Tabitha's next book, One On One) respect him. The affairs do, eventually, end, and Pearl ends up with Reuben and (mostly) everyone lives happily ever after.

So far, Pearl is the best book I've read by Tabitha King because it flows really well and there are no unneeded words to pad out the length (that's not to say her other books have that either -- they don't -- but I know that's something many authors fall prey to) and the reader is immediately pulled into this chapter of the Nodd's Ridge story. It's a book I really couldn't put down until I was finished, and I will definitely be reading it again sometime.  I'm awfully glad I started out the year with this one, because I couldn't think of a better novel to begin 2015 with!

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