Pages of notebook form a heart-shape

Pages of notebook form a heart-shape (Tom Merton, Getty Images / May 21, 2013)

If I were Oprah, I would have both Warren Buffett and Jennifer Aniston's phone numbers. I would have a private jet and access to the savviest gurus to help me treat any and all physical or spiritual maladies.

More importantly, with a single stroke, I could make an underappreciated writer a best-selling author by choosing it for my book club.


This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.


I would use this power by choosing Tom Drury's recently published novel, "Pacific," for my book club.

I am going to tell you why I would choose Tom Drury's "Pacific" for my book club, but it's important to know that this is not a book review.

It's an appreciation, a love letter.

Like all love letters, it's possible this should be kept private.

I've had opportunities to write reviews, sometimes even for money, but I've never done one. A good book review is an argument. A premise is established (the book is good/not good/some blend of the two) and evidence is presented to support and expand upon this premise.

I cannot do book reviews because they require an objective argument for an inherently subjective appearance. Whatever argument and evidence I could muster would pale (for me) next to the experience of reading the book.

If I were writing a review, I would say that "Pacific" is a kind of sequel to Drury's previous book, "The End of Vandalism." With "Pacific" Drury returns to some of the characters in "The End of Vandalism," which is best described as an exploration of the people of Grouse County, Iowa. "Pacific" is a distilled version of its predecessor, focusing on a handful of characters we've come to know previously. In a review, I would tell you that Grouse County is to Drury as Yoknapatawpha County is to Faulkner, a fictional place made achingly real.

But how do I explain the sensation of opening "Pacific" and feeling instantly better about the state of the world, just by knowing that this book is in it?

This sensation reminded me of a visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., years ago. Previously, I'd been skeptical about Abstract Impressionism. How could something that looked like a second-grader did it possibly be art? And then I had the chance to see Jackson Pollock's "Lavender Mist" and, standing before it, tears sprung to my eyes. I suddenly understood.

This is what reading "Pacific" was like. I suddenly understood without even knowing what I was understanding. I was immersed in something alive, something that fulfills Kafka's famous dictum, "A book should be an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us."

I cannot claim in good faith that this book is for everyone. Some will think it lacks incident. Others will think it's just odd.

Here's a test: This is how Dan Norman, the nominal protagonist of both Grouse County books is reintroduced in "Pacific."

Dan Norman walked out of his house carrying the pieces of a broken table. He and Louise still lived on the old Klar farm on the hill.

The table had fallen apart in the living room. It was not bearing unusual weight and neither Dan nor Louise was nearby when it fell. Just the table's time, apparently.

This is indeed not much of an incident. It is also odd, this idea that tables can one day give up being tables. It put a catch in my throat. It reminded me I was alive. It reminded me that we're all alive.

Reading "Pacific," I have no need of Oprah's gurus. For a time, it is the balm to whatever may ail me.

Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.