Off for the Sweet Hereafter

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Raeford Benton Lynch is a young man of very little distinction. Except for his ungainly appearance (“God, you’re ugly!” is the way one character describes him), there is nothing to set him apart from the other residents of tiny Neely, North Carolina. The underachieving son of an underachieving father and a gluttonous mother (“the fat Jeeter,” as opposed to her sister, “the bald Jeeter”), Benton Lynch has reached adulthood having seldom left his parents’ trailer.

Benton’s life changes when he meets Mr. Overhill, a candy corn addict who makes his living by relocating corpses whose graves lie in condemned areas. Mr. Overhill hires Benton at once, and, together with four other professional ghouls, they travel all over the South in Mr. Overhill’s pickup truck. One day, while digging up graves in a town called Harricanes, Benton meets Jane Elizabeth Firesheets, and it is lust at first sight. After a stormy and highly physical love affair, which includes lovemaking sessions in the Firesheets barn, Jane Elizabeth dumps Benton for another man; in retaliation, Benton turns to a life of crime.

Impressed by his valor, Jane Elizabeth rejoins Benton, and their sometimes violent and always glamourless crime spree through the convenience and small grocery stores of the South provides the main plot of the novel. The real charm of the book, however, lies not in its story, but in its style. The homespun narrator relies on repetition, digression, and oddball asides in evoking the passions, the torpor, and the dark humor of the rural South. Readers of T.R. Pearson’s first novel, A SHORT HISTORY OF A SMALL PLACE, will not be disappointed by this second offering.