Reading: T. R. Pearson

I am rereading A Short History of a Small Place, by T. R. Pearson, one of the funniest novels of Southern literature.

Short version: Miss Pettigrew, last of a noble family, climbs up the water tower with her chimpanzee and jumps off. (The chimp remains behind.)

Long version: The town of Neely, NC, and everyone in it.

There are the Epperson sisters and their cousin Cora, who “distinguished themselves in the minds of the Neelyites by going from reasonably normal to unquestionably insane without ever pausing at peculiar,” by emerging from their home one day having “decided they were triplets.”

When they are upset that the city won’t recognize them formally, the sheriff “said he was so pained by their predicament that he suddenly suffered a lapse in good judgment. [He] told them that he would consider recognizing them as triplets if they were able to get fifty adults in Neely to sign a petition verifying their claim. It was a tremendous mistake. The sheriff said he had temporarily forgotten what people are like.”

There’s the new Methodist pastor, who wants live animals at the Christmas pageant and obtains the services of “Mr. Jip French’s old blind pony that his boys chased around the pasture and ran into fences. But when he tried the animals out at a full-dress rehearsal the reverend discovered that he couldn’t use the pony because it was given to breaking wind, not very loudly, Momma said, but in near lethal concentrations. So the reverend tried to get another pony but couldn’t and had to settle for Mr. Earl Jemison’s steely-grey hound, Mayhew, which was probably one of the biggest dogs in the county and which the reverend decided to transform into a camel by means of a couple pillows and a brown rug.” The pageant itself is wildly wrong.

There’s Pinky Throckmorton, who in trying to rid the windowsill outside his office in the post office of pigeons, ends up partially poisoning them all and enraging the D.A.R.’s sensibilities, until fortunately there was a national convention in Nashville and “the whole local unit of the D.A.R. chartered out the First Baptist Church activity bus and headed west for the weekend, and when they returned to Neely all blue-blooded afresh and historically agitated anew, a trashcan full of poisoned pigeons did not seem such an atrocity anymore.”

The Throckmorton episode is a 52-page digression from the main story, triggered by the monkey pissing on Pinky on page 108, winding its way through Pinky’s heritage and detailing his obsession with suing his fellow man, and ending with the fallout from the pigeon massacre on 160. By that time, you’ve forgotten all about the chimp and are truly startled and delighted to be reminded why we’re being told about Pinky in the first place. (He’s going to sue the mayor for being pissed on.)

And that’s where I am now. Go get your copy and read it, right after you read Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware, by M. T. Anderson.

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