Author Tom Drury Revisits Grouse County in ‘Pacific’

Lee Polevoi



Tom Drury

Grove Press

208 pages


Anyone familiar with his work knows this is Tom Drury’s world and the rest of us just happen to live in it.


Ever since chapters from his first novel, The End of Vandalism, appeared in The New Yorker some 20 years ago, readers understood they were in the presence of a unique voice—deadpan yet deeply insightful, slightly off-kilter yet in its assessment of the ebb and flow of the human spirit, wonderfully on target.


Pacific is a sequel of sorts to The End of Vandalism, revisiting the fictional Midwestern domain of Grouse County (might be in Iowa, might be in Minnesota) and inhabitants known to readers of his earlier work. These include Tiny Darling, a small-time thief and errant father of Micah, now in his teens and about to embark for Los Angeles; Joan Gower, Micah’s equally errant mother, a talented TV and film actress (who unlike most of the rest of the cast lives far from Grouse County); Dan Norman, former sheriff of Stone City and now a conflicted private investigator; and his wife, Louise, who runs a thrift shop in the town of Stone City, and happens to be Tiny’s ex-wife.


Numerous other individuals float in and out of the story, most notably Sandra Zulman, an ethereal young woman not completely in control of her faculties and driven to take possession—by any means necessary—of a rock she believes to have sprung full-blown out of ancient Celtic mythology. Sandra’s quest brings her to Stone City, where she singlehandedly disrupts the town’s tranquil atmosphere in pursuit of her rock.


At first the plot seems to meander, but the incidentals of Pacific distinguish themselves almost immediately. We meet Dan Norman walking out of his house, “carrying the pieces of a broken table”:


“The table had fallen apart in the living room. It was not bearing unusual weight and neither Dan nor Louise was nearby when it fell. Just the table’s time, apparently.”


One-liners like this abound throughout and it’s tempting to string together a laundry list of them, rather than go on compulsively about the novel’s merits. Just to get it out of the way, here are a few more:


·        Tiny Darling’s mother: “People feared her, as if she had special powers, but she was just an old lady given to yelling at people and playing with their minds.”



·        Joan taking off her clothes for a movie audition: “She hadn’t worked her body into this shape to be ashamed before filmmakers. She was the dream that troubled their sleep, lying ageless as they grew older and older.”


·        Dan’s boss at the private detective agency: “Lynn [Lord] was said to be one of the best darts players in the county, not that the county was teeming with darts players.”



A vein of deep sadness permeates Pacific and few of the characters are immune to it. Micah’s girlfriend Charlotte has an unnerving urge to bite herself and others to make up for some absence in her life. Louise is chronically troubled by “night-time worries” (“This is what the night does,” she tells Dan as they walk downstairs together in the middle of the night. “Puts sad things in your mind.”) Joan regrets an extramarital fling with a screenwriter, which her husband Rob later discovers:


“She leaned her head against the window of the car, saying nothing. The glass was cool and refreshing. They drove by the Paradise Motel, where the lurid purple lights slid over rain-streaked windows. The only bond Joan could not break was with Micah. She was tired of all the other men in the world.”


Early on, it seems as if the series of short scenes that comprise the novel might not amount to more than one damn thing after another. But, in fact, our understanding of the residents of Grouse County and denizens of LA grows more acute with each passing page. Nothing ever gets stated outright; in Drury’s off-center worldview, such things simply aren’t done. But long before Pacific ends, the reader has come to know and care for virtually everyone and wishes the short scenes might continue on for yet another hundred pages.


 Late in the novel, after Sandra Zulman has committed some egregious crimes, Albert Robeshaw, a reporter for the Stone City newspaper (known “for having dropped the cartoon strip Blondie, to much disapproval”), pays a visit to Sandra’s parents and gets a visceral sense of her home environment:


“They went to see her room, down a hall past tall tables with faded linens, family pictures, dim lamps with shades of colored glass … The gloom of the unused hallway was not unusual, Albert thought. Everyone sets out their possessions to portray a good and orderly life, and, when things go bad, the possessions become cold reminders of what might have been. That’s what it was like. It gave him the shivers.”


A fair description of Tom Drury’s work. It gives you the shivers.


Author Bio:

Lee Polevoi, author of the novel The Moon in Deep Winter, is completing a new novel.


Highbrow Magazine


Photo: Wonderlane (Flckr).


not popular
Bottom Slider: 
Out Slider