Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: CRY ME A RIVER by T. R. Pearson

Today's Forgotten Book is Cry Me A River.

The title of this murder mystery refers to the 1953 song sung by Julie London.  The first time you hear it, you think it is too slow.  It crawls, it slinks, it takes forever to get anywhere.  Your mind wants to race ahead, but the music pulls you back, a smokey melody that winds and drifts and will not be hurried.

The narrative of the novel is like that.  It rambles, circles, eddies, and takes its good ole time.  Events happen quickly but you're not certain whether these are meaningful or simply asides, for the thrust of the main narrative is in no particular hurry.  The story here will have to sink into you over time, over the course of the full novel.

And the prose structure matches the overall narrative.  It is not a Faulkner imitation; it is Pearson's own, a natural southern country cadence but one that takes some getting used to, and like me, you're apt to find it delicious once you get an ear for it.

Despite Hollywood's typecasting, we know that many southerners talk fast, and my wife is a prime example.  Actress Jean Smartt, who lately appeared as the DA on television's Harry's Law, is another example, and she would have no problem doing the audio book for this novel.

No matter how quickly you hear it spoken, the narrative may strike you as slow, beat-around-the-bush circumvention, and I know several readers who gave up on the book early for that reason.  You have to get into the story as it lays, you have to see the beauty in such circling narrative progression.  The narrative and the story become one big river with interesting undercurrents.

On its gabby, rolling surface, this is a crime novel, a police procedural of one policeman's investigation of the death of another policeman.  The hidden undercurrents provide the color, the humorous characters, the quirky dark life of a small community.  It ends in a redemption of love and empathy if you've the eyes to see it.

This brilliant work deserves a wider audience.

Incidentally, the title of the song, "Cry Me A River," became a catch-phrase back in the 1950s, a repartee remark to someone complaining about their relatively insignificant troubles.  The song was covered by many other torch singers and blues artists and is now a standard.

I recall first listening to Diana Krall's rendition, which made me think of Julie London.  With her slow tempos, Diana Krall put the crawl in almost every song she sung back then.  I became an instant fan.  Recently NPR interviewed Tom Waits about his new CD (link) and Terry Gross determined that Waits' song, "Kiss Me Like A Stranger" was inspired from Julie London's "Cry Me A River."

No doubt the song has influenced other musical artists and other novels as well.

"The fire's dying out. All the embers have been spent outside on the street. Lovers hide in the shadows. You look at me. I look at you. There's only one thing I want you to do. Kiss me. I want you to kiss me like a stranger once again.  Kiss me like a stranger...".

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