Clara Callan Mass Market Paperback – Jul 8 2004
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A finely detailed depiction of the Depression era, Clara Callan is told entirely in the letters and journal entries of two adult sisters, Clara and Nora Callan, and their older lesbian friend, Evelyn. The novel, Wright's ninth, made a surprising sweep of Canada's major awards for best novel--the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award--in 2001. Wright has the gift of making the reader care deeply about these characters and their worlds, which include small town Ontario, where Clara is a sensitive schoolteacher, and New York City, where the younger Nora has moved to become a radio soap opera star. Since both sisters are still "on the shelf," their roller-coaster love lives--Nora's in worldly Manhattan and Clara's in the more restrictive atmosphere of small-town spinsterhood--are a primary subject of their letters and Clara's journal.
This is a quiet book, studied and well researched, but thoroughly engaging and readable. Numerous references to period music, political events, and the looming war quite successfully place the reader at both the centre and the periphery of life in the 1930s. Side trips to Italy and to view the Dionne quintuplets feel entirely authentic. With deceptive simplicity, the author creates a world of clear images: "Nora came in from her shuffleboard game with a sweater tied across her shoulders, her hair damp from the rain." Most importantly, Wright has realized characters that come alive on the page--quite a feat considering the self-imposed limitations of this novel's form. --Mark Frutkin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Canadian author Wright (The Age of Longing) has published eight novels, but remains unknown to most readers in the States. His most recent offering, which won Canada's 2001 Governor General's Award and the Giller Prize, could change that. The story's conceit is simple enough: Clara Callan is a single "schoolteacher who likes to write poetry," left to fend for herself in the tiny town of Whitfield, Ontario, after her father dies and her sister, Nora, takes off for New York City. The novel is made up of a series of letters and journal entries written between 1934 and 1939. During that time, Nora becomes a radio soap opera star, while Clara loses her faith in God, is raped by a vagrant, has an abortion, engages in an affair with a married man named Frank and finally gives birth to a daughter. Nora and the lesbian writer of her soap opera, Evelyn Dowling, are Clara's main correspondents, but the news she relates in her letters (such as "grippe and calloused hands"-although she also shows concern for the world's more serious injustices) contrasts with the darker events recorded in her journal entries. Wright has accomplished an amazing feat by allowing his characters to emerge, fully formed and true, without authorial intrusion into their intimate psychological world, revitalizing the epistolary form in the process. This novel will remind some readers of the American poet Elizabeth Bishop, herself an avid correspondent, and of the way in which the elegant surfaces of her letters sometimes cracked open to reveal demons lurking below.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The story is set before the second world war in a small town in Ontario, where Clara Callan, a solitary thirty something school teacher, ponders the meaning of life, love and happiness while floating in the banal everyday existence that a small town has to offer. But no life is ever ordinary and the journey Clara takes in the years leading to the second world war are filled with both happiness and sorrow but most of all discovery. No man is an island and certainly not Miss Callan whose correspondance with her sister Nora, a sprity creature who runs off New York to be a radio star, and the ever sharp witted Evelyn, alongside Clara's diary, forms the basis of the novel.
The true charm of the novel is not its plot twists and deft storytelling but the humanity with which the characters are rendered for both their beauty and warts, and the recognition that even the most seemingly mundane and ordinary life is a tale worth telling.
Given that it's written from Clara's point of view via her correspondence and diary, I was able to surmise and imagine much more than was being revealed by Clara.
All elements of the book are deeply believable. So much that I wonder: is the book based on actual (very well) written text from maybe an old aunt, or is it wonderful that the author, a man, is able to convey the simple honesty of three brilliant women in the 30s exactly from their point of view, untainted by modern beliefs or gender separation.
The fact that it includes key historic elements, mentioned as a backdrop for daily events from the point of view of the characters, makes the book extra special.
I read it two years ago, and I'm re-rediscovering it now. It's also the kind of book that can be read again every few years or so, and the story remains fresh.
Clara's personal story is embedded in the realities of the mid-thirties where unemployment is rife and poverty spreading. Although at the periphery of the main thrust of the book, Wright alludes to the emerging pre-war anxieties. He touches on the contrasts between city and rural living, utilizing Clara's reluctance to accept such innovations as the telephone, as an example. Yet, the regular Saturday trips to Toronto, perceived by her as a necessary escape from the village, lead to a new, important phase in her personal development, giving her also a new taste of independence. She visits her sister in New York, although in rather difficult time in her life.Read more ›
In short, this is the tale of two sisters - one is free-spirited who wishes nothing more than to escape her small Ontario town and become famous. The other is her sister, Clara, whose diary and letters we read.
Clara is a schoolteacher, convinced she will live a straightforward life, until she finds passion with a man whom we all later discover is married.
This is, in my opinion, a truly beautiful book. Although initially I found it somewhat slow, I soon became immersed in the world of Clara and her sister. I read it when I lived in Ontario one cold January (I was due to give birth too!!). I felt I had to write a review because so many people thought badly about this book but I adored it. I couldn't believe that a man had written so perceptively about women and in the form of diary and letters too (very personal).
For what it's worth my book club loved it too :) Enjoy!
Most recent customer reviews
Loved this book! I found it just by accident, had never heard of it or the author before, will have to read more of his.Published 7 months ago by Susan
I didn't want this book to end. One of the best books I've read in a long time.Published 11 months ago by Laurie Gough
This story of a young woman finding her purpose in life is emotionally gripping that leaves the reader wanting just a little bit more near the end.Published 16 months ago by Lawrence West
The main character is so hum drum, and ends up to be a hoot!
It shows how the folk in that era lived, worked and played.
This was a very easy read and I enjoyed it as a change. I would recommend it to some of my friends who only read at night and don't like anything upsetting or violent. Read morePublished on Feb. 20 2013 by Joan Lemire
This was my first time reading this author, and I enjoyed his writing style of written letters between the characters, as well as the main character Claras diary entries. Read morePublished on Nov. 11 2011 by Novel Girl
Richard B. Wright had escaped my reading pile until recently. I just finished Shakespeare's Bastard and was so pleased with his written word and ability to write from a female... Read morePublished on Jan. 7 2011 by charmaine
I began this book - a Book Club choice for me - with enthusiasm, and at first found it interesting. I wanted to find out what happened to the sisters, and was quite engaged in the... Read morePublished on June 29 2008 by Barnaby Black