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A Short History of a Small Place

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  920 Ratings  ·  123 Reviews
Marvelously funny, bittersweet, and beautifully evocative, the original publication of A Short History of a Small Place announced the arrival of one of our great Southern voices. Although T. R. Pearson's Neely, North Carolina, doesn't appear on any map of the state, it has already earned a secure place on the literary landscape of the South. In this introduction to Neely,
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 1985)
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Apr 07, 2008 Judi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Southern writers are among my favorites. I adore the prose style in this book in particular. The sentence construction and imagry is amazing. This book has a great cast of eccentric characters and oozes with Southern small town ambiance. I have read this one several times.
Apr 06, 2012 Mommalibrarian rated it liked it
This is a 'story' like your uncle would tell at some family occasion. It is repetitive, convoluted and told in a straight forward deadpan manner. You are supposed to laugh. It is not so much Southern as rural and contains all the stereotypes that urban people imagine are characteristic of rural situations. This is the funniest passage in the entire book.

"Miss Dupont fanned her face with an old church bulletin and appeared noticeably flustered and agitated, Mrs Phillip J. King said, like maybe sh
Dec 31, 2011 Cynthia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a great look at a small town & its quirks and oddities.

UPDATE, December 2011: Sitting in my living room with the tree lights glowing and a sink full of dirty dishes in the kitchen, this made for an excellent re-read. One of the best scenes is when the narrator, Louis, and his Daddy have "the talk."

(page 288)"...And once they're married they can become what we call intimate without other people looking sideways at them.'

'Intimate?' I said.

But Daddy rolled on ahead of me and recommenced w
Doug Nagel
Dec 06, 2012 Doug Nagel rated it really liked it
One of the funniest books I have read lately. The story, set in the fictional town of Neely, North Carolina, provides the reader with a plethora of really interesting characters in a variety of unusual situations.

I would read this book before going to bed and would begin chuckling out loud. This would prompt my wife to read aloud what I was enjoying alone. Soon we were both laughing so hard the tears would come to our eyes.

T.R. Pearson has a wonderful way with words. He is often wry and sarcasti
Jul 10, 2009 Laurie rated it it was ok
I started out loving this book -- bits of humor, colloquilisms -- but like a "death-by-chocolate" cake, too much of a good thing became hard to swallow. About half-way through the third chapter, the narration just sounded like rambling jibberish and the clever turns-of-phrase got missed in the tedium. I skimmed the middle section, and I then read the last fifteen pages hoping to end with something positive to say...I prefered Cold Sassy Tree and Jayber Crow for glimpses into small-town life and ...more
Oct 18, 2015 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Laugh-out-loud turns of a phrase on nearly every page. T. R. Pearson's story of an imaginary small place called Neely, North Carolina took me back to my own childhood with its small-town vernacular. Louis Benfield, the youthful narrator, turns observations of the mundane into sublime comedy and bittersweet moments. As you read this prose, be patient. Sip it like your favorite coffee or tea. The build up is worth the turn of the next page with capstones such as:

"Mrs. Phillip J. King is what Daddy
This story is written with an amazing sense of lyrical style and some of the most colorful and descriptive narratives that I have ever read. Told through the eyes of Louis Benfield, jr., a young boy who has been handed down the different parts of the story through various townspeople, it all weaves back and forth around one central person, Miss Myra Angelique Pettigrew.

Along with a host of characters - a set of crazy sisters, a dishonest plumber, a power-hungry politician, a postal employee wit
Jul 15, 2008 Audrey rated it did not like it
sigh.....i had to give this one up halfway through which i just do not like to do...sigh.

meantime i was sure all along that one of you guys had LOVED this book and so i stuck with it. But now i don't see any reviews by any of you so i guess i was hallucinating?

back to the book - it is a story of a small town, and the small town gossip and politics that go along with small town living. The characters are extremely well drawn but the writing style is so pains-taking that it is awkward to read. aft
Sep 10, 2014 Jolynn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: funny
A Short History of a Small Place is undoubtedly one of the most hilarious books I have ever read. Not many books make me laugh out loud -- and this one did -- repeatedly. I tried to read some parts aloud to my family and I was laughing so hard I could not see the next line of print through my tears. That funny! if you are from a small town in the South -- do not miss out on this gem published in 1985. The characters are priceless, the small town is true to life (eccentric personalities, everyone ...more
Aug 11, 2011 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The sight of a public service officer reminded me of a sentence in this book. It had been years since I read it, but the sentence came roaring back into my head and I had to go get a copy of the book to see it again.

page 12: "Aside from being naturally soft and mealy, Daddy said Sheriff Burton was probably a little too much encumbered with the implements of law enforcement to have the chance of being nimble. He couldn't take half a step without the leather creaking and the metal jangling, and w
Mar 19, 2011 Sunshine rated it liked it
I have to wonder what on earth the outline for this book must have looked like prior to Pearson beginning his first draft. My guess is that it would be as odd and eclectic as the book itself. With his laugh-out-loud funny characters and stories Pearson delights his readers with colorful, and at times, meaningful trips through this "small place". His witty descriptions, slow-moving pace and overall style, very much mimic the part of the country in which this book is set. An enjoyable, amusing, an ...more
LaShawna Powers
Apr 03, 2010 LaShawna Powers rated it it was amazing
Lyrical, smart, and crazy hilarious. Child protagonist Louis Benfield notices everything & remembers it all. The sense of place is so profound, I could see the Pettigrew house, picture the Benfield's kitchen and the view from the window, and I'd know Pinky Throckmorton if I saw him in the street.

Pearson does use racial slurs on at least two occasions, however. They tend to be said by assholes, so I suspect that Pearson is making a commentary on the kind of person that would say them. It's st
Sarah Hanawald
Sep 11, 2011 Sarah Hanawald rated it it was amazing
Not short. One of the funniest books I've ever read. Tonight is my night to add books "of place" which means Ferrol Sams and Robertson Davies. TR Pearson's trilogy is brilliant, and this is the first of three books. Faulkneresque and yet also completely independent. Full of literary allusions that you don't need to get to enjoy Pearson's exploration of southern life (I'm sure I missed half of them). Sometimes, simple, clear prose is overrated and instead, only stream of consciousness with delici ...more
Kali Browne
Jan 03, 2011 Kali Browne rated it it was amazing
I love this book! A friend gave it to me when I graduated college. I smirked. she said, "I know the last thing you want right now is to read yet another book. Trust me, you have to read this." It was my companion for weeks, as I read it on my daily commute and sacred New Yorkers every time I let out a cackle. Funniest thing I have ever read. And years later, I'm still referencing characters and scenes in daily conversation. It's joyful and funny and fresh.
Nov 08, 2012 Chris rated it it was amazing
The most entertaining book I have ever read, hands down. You can 'hear' the southern accent as you read, and absolutely visualize every character. A wonderful book that will have you not only laughing out loud, but forcing people to listen as you read sections to them.
Philip Loyd
Apr 28, 2016 Philip Loyd rated it it was amazing
Unfortunately for me, I did not like any of the subsequent books by Pearson. It's unfortunate because "A Short History of a Small Place" is one of the best books I have ever read. It's full of wild imagination and great prose. I loved it!!!
Laura Reed
Mar 30, 2009 Laura Reed rated it did not like it
I made myself read the first chapter...and I could not get into it...I gave it a fair shot I think. The word choice was too obtuse and sentence structure too complex for an enjoyable read.
Sep 07, 2016 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Talking to Betty," my aunt Jan said to my mother about their middle sister, "is like reading a T.R. Pearson novel." A Short History of a Small Place was recommended to me by a friend when I was an undergraduate with known Southern Gothic leanings. I mentally filed it away on my to-read shelf and there it stayed for 30+ years. Not having read it didn't stop me from giving a birthday- or Christmas-gift copy to my mother, an expat North Carolinian and the readingest reader I know, and she turned J ...more
"I am really interested in small books," I said to my mother-in-law. "Books you can read with one hand while you feed a baby with the other." My failed attempt to read Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, a fascinating yet literally weighty bit of hardcovered non-fiction was on my mind.

She got a dreamy look on her face for only a moment before she disappeared into the back room with a purpose. She returned with this book in her hand and stitches in her side.

This book is exactly the kind of thing
May 09, 2013 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Without a doubt, one of the best books I have ever read. Nothing much happens, no one is rich and famous or does something newsworthy. It's just a total delight to read -- 'normal' life in a little town in the south described with such talent that no matter where you're from, you find your reading-voice-in-you-head has suddenly acquired a Southern drawl. Told in a matter-of-fact way, it is achingly funny in the way that some people can tell you a serious story and have no idea how hilarious it i ...more
David Ward
A Short History of a Small Place by T.R. Pearson (Ballantine Books 1986) (Fiction). T.R. Pearson has set his new novel in the fictional small rural town of Neely, North Carolina, which other reviewers have disclosed is a thinly-disguised Reidsville, North Carolina. Pearson slathers on enough rural colloquialisms to choke a horse, and these are the kinds of cutesy rural sayings that non-southerners imagine that we southerners use when in fact they are simply rural sayings. The plot revolves aroun ...more
Hugh Atkins
Aug 05, 2015 Hugh Atkins rated it liked it
This book was humorous at times and written in a unique style. There are a few interesting characters. But the style became tedious as the book moved forward. The section where the neighbors are negotiating a settlement over some ducks is funny, but most of the rest of this book barely rates a chuckle. I think it would be better with more dialogue and less narration. The dialogue, where it appears is great and it is the best part of the novel. Some of the characters reminded me of Faulkner's Sno ...more
Feb 29, 2016 Beth rated it liked it
I bought this book 15 years ago, because I knew it was about the area of North Carolina where I grew up. At that time, I made it about halfway through the book before I stopped reading.... not that it isn't entertaining - the way that its written just takes some time to get used to. Older now and having moved away from "Neely", I believe I have a greater appreciation for the style of writing. The book is written in the way that someone from a small town would speak. For me, that was part of the ...more
Donna LaValley
Sep 05, 2011 Donna LaValley rated it really liked it
Loved it, but confess I actually skimmed a page. Just A page, and then to be sure I didn't miss anything wonderful, I re-skimmed it! It has a wordy style with multi-repetitions and a lazy, non-chronological telling. I couldn't say there is a "plot." Some of the sentences are longer than the entire essays of some of my students, so if you like that kind of thing... read it. The point of view is what creates the charm. The reader sees the town and it's characters from the eyes and mind of a boy gr ...more
Hank Mishkoff
Mar 20, 2009 Hank Mishkoff rated it liked it
This book clearly won the Pulitzer Prize for Most Paragraphs Starting With The Phase "Daddy said..." (372)

Pearson's style threw me at first, it seemed so overly styled as small-town-Southern storytelling that it struck me as pretentious and awkward. But either I got used to it or it began to flow better after a while, but I didn't get very far into the book before I began to enjoy it. Think of it as a collection of stories that Garrison Keillor would tell if Lake Wobegon was in North Carolina an
Jun 30, 2016 Mitch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
This is the first of T. Pearson's books that I have read- but it won't be my last. His humorous portraits of a mythical town in North Carolina and its inhabitants are a delight to read, though I must say that his sentences flow on like a never-ending stream sometimes. It's a style, and there can be too much of it after a while, but overall he entertains while telling you a story that goes...nowhere at all, really.
I'm glad I've found a prolific author whose work I enjoy...I hope you will too!
Jun 23, 2012 Amy marked it as to-read
Shelves: did-not-finish
I can't really rate this because I just never finished it. I really tried, though. Made it to about page 175 but I just wasn't feeling it. I enjoyed the Southern/rural flavor and the eccentric characters, but the writing was just too annoying for me. It was so much "Dad said this happened" and "Dad said it was because of this that happened", etc. I know it was supposed to be funny (and some of it was) but I found myself dreading it, so I decided just to stop reading. Maybe I just wasn't in the r ...more
With long and rambling sentences, a non-linear narrative style, and a lack of anything apparent that the book is "about", "A Short History" isn't a book that everyone will enjoy.

If you decide to read it, give yourself time to get used to the cadence. You can't be in a hurry. If you stick with it, you'll be rewarded by laugh-out-loud funny and a reminder of the bittersweet and existential side of life.

I enjoyed the book so much that I slowed down reading at the end because I didn't want it to end
Oct 21, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing
This book was a seriously funny and sad story about the people of a small Appalachian town told from the POV of a boy who was there. I love that Mr. Pearson suspends grammar and just tells the story with an actual small town voice, filled with emotion and inflection and idiosyncrasies. I could almost hear Louis telling his story with those absolutely wonderful run-on sentences that made me feel like he was standing in front of me gesturing while he talked. I could hear him.

I read this several ye
Dec 09, 2011 Leslie rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, american
This book is just like sitting at the kitchen table, listening to the grown-ups tell stories about all the people we knew. It's not that Southerners are malicious, by and large, with theirvgossip. They just can't help but love a good story, particularly one that reveals human nature. The entire book is a set of stories about an important family in town and how their lives affected everyone.

The author has a strong voice and a good ear for the sounds of North Carolina. The book is funny with uniq
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Thomas Reid Pearson is an American novelist. Pearson was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was a student at North Carolina State University, where he gained a B.A. and M.A. in English. He went on to teach at Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina. He started work on a Ph.D. in Pennsylvania but soon returned to North Carolina, where he worked as a carpenter and a housepainter while he beg ...more
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“According to Daddy, that was a time of general lunacy in Neely, but then Daddy has always said there's nothing like a good snowfall to bring out the feeble-mindedness in people. ” 8 likes
“Momma crossed her arms over her apron bib and worked the small of her back against the edge of the doorframe. Daddy drew a Tareyton out of the pack in his shirtpocket and looked straight at me and talked straight at Momma and said, “Madness.” 2 likes
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