Cry Me a River

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

T. R. Pearson’s CRY ME A RIVER is not so much a mystery story as a comedic epic in miniature. The unnamed narrator, a police officer, relates the happenings surrounding his investigation of the murder of a fellow officer, Wendle, but chiefly the business of solving the mystery serves as pretext for talk and more talk. Scarcely is a character introduced than the narrator relates one or several anecdotes, sometimes strung together within each other. Thus the narrator devotes five pages to describing the discovery of Wendle’s body, following with twenty pages of anecdotes about fellow officers and citizens before returning to the scene of the crime.

The dust jacket identifies CRY ME A RIVER as Pearson’s most accessible novel to date. His rambling style easily could get out of control; here, he reins it in. Readers are immersed in the milieu of the Southern town in which the story takes place, getting to know characters through the tangential relationships introduced by the narrator. The style of storytelling makes the plot line difficult to trace; this, however, is a novel written not for plot but for character.

The investigation does unfold, after a fashion. The narrator discovers a Polaroid snapshot of a naked woman in Wendle’s wallet, a photograph that the narrator takes to ruminating over during evenings spent in his Naugahyde chair in the company of his explosively flatulent dog. Most of the search for this mystery woman takes place in the company of Ellis, one of the town drunks, rather than with fellow police officers. Eventually, the narrator stumbles across Wendle’s apparent paramour in the local Wal-Mart. She represents the only lead in a murder case growing increasingly cold.

Through a series of happenstance encounters mixed with some commonplace police work, the narrator finds Wendle’s killer. He makes a point of telling how the true story behind the crime becomes obscured in the popular mind, partly by his own doing as he attempts to protect the reputations of those involved as well as concealing what might be seen as his own ineptitude. The resulting exaggerated and distorted account almost makes it onto television as a docudrama. CRY ME A RIVER has similar elements of distortion and hyperbole, but those characteristics are what make it a joy to read.