Drury is a sure-footed, lyrical novelist—as I’m sure you know, because he seems to be one of those writers that everybody’s read except me. Pacific follows two forks of a tangled family: a 14-year-old boy whose biological mother reclaims him from his adopted family and moves him out west to Hollywood, and that adopted family itself.
There are a few more plot flourishes than your average introspective literary novel—the search for an ancient rock leads to a swordfight and a murder—but those more baroque twists don’t ever quite lead to the completed puzzle they imply.
Drury’s real strength is simply his writing. His prose has the effortless sheen of an experienced stylist, and his character work communicates more than seems possible, given its brevity. Drury’s dialogue is masterfully pared down, to the point where it seems fast forwarded.
Here’s an example, the scene where Micah—the 14-year-old boy—meets the son of his birth mother’s current husband.
Someone said it was morning time, and Micah opened his eyes.
“I lied,” said a boy in the room. He was older than Micah, small and thin with a dark goatee. “It’s evening time.”
Micah sat up and looked around for his shoes, before realizing they were on his feet.
“I’m Eamon,” said the boy. “We’re the sons of the people in the house, so we have to get along, no matter if we hate each other or what.”
“What time is it?”
Micah yawned. “I’m Micah. Nice to meet you.”
“Are you a loner?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Good. Let’s go for a drive.”
This is exactly how the how-to-write books tell you to write dialogue, but Drury makes it feel alive in a way few MFA grads seem able to. The difference between this and a book like last year’s much-hyped literary debut novel Glaciers is hard to quantify, and probably just a matter of taste. Where Glaciers felt to me like a first novel born in an MFA program—in which, e.g., each character wants something specific because characters are supposed to want things—Pacific feels more like the work of an experienced writer, one the MFA rules are based on. Glaciers felt stretched too far at 100 pages; Pacific feels squeezed into its 200.
In sum, Pacific isn’t a particularly flashy novel, but it’s one that 80% of the literary novelists out there would kill to be able to write. While its plot sometimes kicks about without actually building to a crescendo, Drury’s writing and characters are superb.