Poised on the precipice of mystery and longing, each character in Now You Know It All also hovers on the brink of discovery—and decision. Set in small-town North Carolina, or featuring eager Southerners venturing afar, these stories capture the crucial moment of irrevocable change. A young waitress accepts an offer from a beguiling stranger; a troubled boy attempts to unleash the villain from an internet hoax on his party guests; a smitten student finds more than she bargained for in her favorite teacher’s attic; two adult sisters reconvene to uncover a family secret hidden in plain sight. With a sharp eye for rendering inner life, Joanna Pearson has a knack for creating both compassion and a looming sense of threat. Her stories peel back the layers of the narratives we tell ourselves in an attempt to understand the world, revealing that the ghosts haunting us are often the very shadows that we cast.
Pearson's subtle and moving collection (after Every Human Love) showcases women pushed to their limits, with undertones of creepiness or dread. Two adult sisters reminisce in "Boy in the Barn" about their summers spent with their grandmother and are struck with the memory of tying up a boy. In "The Whaler's Wife," a college student volunteers for summer tutoring in Cambridge, Mass., and lives with a wealthy family hiding an unspoken tragedy. In "The Lily, the Rose, the Rose," Cora frets that her second pregnancy at age 40 might land her back in the hospital with postpartum depression; meanwhile her young son becomes friendly with a stranger. The eponymous protagonist of "Darling" (described as "incongruous," like "a switchblade on a heap of pillows") reels from the news that the billionaire who groomed and trafficked her has died in prison. Beth Ann, the child therapist narrator of "The Films of Roman Polanski," becomes enthralled by a manipulative 13-year-old foster child she is treating. Naive eighth-grader Margaret is taken under the wing of her Latin teacher in "Amo, Amas, Amat" and is bewildered by the teacher's wife, who treats dolls as real babies. Throughout, Pearson's stories glide through their alarming moments with a precision hard to look away from. This will transfix and unsettle.