Picks and Pans Review: A Short History of a Small Place

updated 08/05/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/05/1985 01:00AM

by T.R. Pearson

Here is a rambling, often funny, first novel about a North Carolina town called Neely. The narrator is a schoolboy named Louis Benfield Jr. His father is given to droll summations, and it's a question whether or not the lad actually gets the point on most occasions. No matter—the innocence adds to the reader's pleasure. The citizens of Neely seem most interested in a mayor named Pettigrew and his sister, the richest folk in town. They are especially noteworthy because they have a pet chimpanzee called Mr. Britches, who wears a porkpie hat and blazer—but no pants. When the mayor chokes to death on a radish, Miss Pettigrew becomes a crazy recluse. Pearson's young narrator veers into frequent, pleasant digressions. One, in which he goes to ask his mother a question while she is napping in her darkened room, is sublime. There are several enchanting characters: Benfield's mother washes dishes whenever she is upset and gets so depressed in February that her husband has to take her out to dinner at the Holiday Inn. The first loud belly laugh hits on page 18, and funny stuff comes with great regularity after that. (Linden Press, $16.95)

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