by Ridley Pearson
Published by Hyperion
356 pages, 2001
Buy it online
Reviewed by David Abrams
There's a high-speed bullet train at the center of Ridley Pearson's novel Parallel Lies and it's designed to propel first-class riders from Point A to Point B in record time without spilling a drop of champagne along the way. Sleek, slick, sublime.
The same could be said about the book's plot. It's a quick read with Pearson fully at the controls in the engine room. Too bad he gets derailed by clunky writing.
Pearson handles the English language like a grease-fingered thief grabbing the Mona Lisa. Subtlety and nuance slip through his grasp and crash to the ground. Cliché is the order of the day in the story of a mild-mannered schoolteacher whose wife and children are killed in a train-crossing accident and who then plots revenge on the railroad corporation:
He felt only a sharp, unforgiving pain where he should have felt his heart. Nearly two and a half years had passed, but still he couldn't adjust to life without them. Friends had comforted him, saying he would move on, but they were wrong. He'd lost everything and now he'd given up everything. To hell with sleep. To hell with his so-called life. He'd turned himself over to the grief, succumbed to it. He had purpose, and that purpose owned him: Payment for atrocities against him and his family would be made in full. If not, he would die trying.
Then again, we don't always read thrillers for their subtle nuances, do we? To hell with so-called art, just gimme the junk-food pleasures of pulp. No, the only question on our minds when we're standing in the airport bookshop looking to grab something for that four-hour flight is this: "Will it keep me awake?"
Well, sure it will. Parallel Lies will pound your pulse and dry your mouth. There's no question about Pearson's skill in that department. His research is impeccable, his pacing is tidy, his characters are thicker than your average cardboard cutout. And yet is it too much to ask for the music of words in the bargain?
"You've just given me goose bumps," she said.
Father apart than the distance from Mr. Pearson's imagination to the pen in his hand, apparently.
David Abrams is a January Magazine contributing editor. He has written for Esquire, Glimmer Train Stories, The Greensboro Review, The Readerville Journal and other literary magazines.