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.
Each story contains plenty of moments and lines that demonstrate Pearson’s talent, but all the same, they also evince the “indefinable” qualities that make for a great short-story collection.
Pearson’s writing is not only tightly plotted but often gorgeous in the most wonderfully ominous way, often combining the literary and the eerie within a single well-crafted sentence. . . . Now You Know It All knits together a dreamlike world in which the settings and characters are crafted in laser-cut realism, while the dark coincidences and subplots hint at the supernatural, the spooky, the rupturing of reality.
Joanna Pearson shows herself to be a deserving winner of the 2021 Drue Heinz Literature Prize for her compelling short story collection . . . which abounds with protagonists unwilling to face their situations until forced to do so. . . . Using precise rendering of likable but flawed individuals allows conflicts to unfold on the page that will keep readers engaged in the lack of easy answers her conclusions withhold.
Now You Know It All takes in a wide array of characters—a waitress, a student, adult sisters, a young child—with a keen, knowing eye.
Despite their gravity, these stories simply pour off the page and into the reader. Everything feels urgent. They read quickly—in fact, there is the desire to gulp them down like a cold drink—but they also manage to feel bigger than they are. . . . Pearson is particularly masterful in creating intrigue that propels us through the stories.
Now You Know It All, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, reads more like a collection of very small novels than a collection of stories, given the breadth, depth, and twists in each offering. It’s not that these tales feel like stories that want to be novels—they are decidedly and perfectly what they should be—but that they dip, swoop, and reveal their secrets more like novels.
A worthy acolyte of Flannery O’Connor, Pearson trades in dark character studies punctuated by alarming events. They are set mostly in Southern suburbs and small towns, which are rendered with precise authenticity. And while Pearson never crosses the line into Southern gothic territory, she walks right up to it and flirts with it in a way that delights my deep-seated love of stories that examine the dark underbelly of human nature when it’s exposed to the light.
Pearson’s stories might be short, but they have a long-lasting impression while craftily making you think about life’s mysteries.
Joanna Pearson’s Now You Know It All offers a splendid array of stories that reminded me page after page of old-fashioned stories when writers built their pieces brick by brick and built them to last. Pearson is not after the quick two-page, soulless anecdote glancing. [With a] Southern flavor, Now You Know It All is about the souls and hearts of the characters and how so very much of living got them to a point where nothing can be the same again.
I love this book. Joanna Pearson’s skills as a storyteller seem limitless. She writes about men, women, and children with confidence and believability, with such humor, flair, and even horror, I feel like she’s the one who knows it all.
Joanna Pearson’s blazingly insightful stories veer in and out of the uncanny to imagine women at turning points—a small-town college student on her first internship, a mother recovering from postpartum psychosis, a waitress fleeing Epstein-like abuse—to speak to the dangers and unease of our time. More powerfully, they uncover the perils always lurking in the ‘trick brain,’ as one character puts it, the part of the self drawn to life’s darkest places. A collection you won’t soon forget.
Joanna Pearson’s 2021 release is a masterclass in short fiction work that is sure to keep your attention (and get under your skin). Each tale provides striking, unsettling character snapshots with prose lingering on the ominous and otherworldly.
Joanna Pearson is a lapsed poet who once wrote a young adult novel on a whim but nowadays mostly writes short fiction. Her first collection of stories, Every Human Love, was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Awards, the Foreword Indies Awards, and the Janet Heidinger Prize for Fiction. Her stories have appeared in Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net, as well as other journals. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars and an MD from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. A native of western North Carolina, she now lives with her husband and two daughters near Chapel Hill, where she works as a psychiatrist.