Totally unrelated to the weather
“(Clarissa) felt an undoing coming on that was totally unrelated to the weather.” Here’s a first page that holds so much promise! Would Connie May Fowler’s latest, “How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly” fulfill such an opening? Gladly, yes, but it took some effort.
I’ve always loved Connie May Fowler’s writing. She treads on the same Florida landscape I love and every one of her books has paralleled my own experience in some peculiar way. Here, it was the blasted heat of the summer solstice. I was reading about a mercilessly hot Florida summer solstice day on a mercilessly hot Florida…
Clarissa is a successful author suffering writer’s block, perhaps brought on by her stifled life. And for nearly half the book, we suffer along with her. Really. Here she is swatting at an amorous fly, now she is spying on her odious husband, here she is remembering her cruel childhood. Then she tries writing, and nothing happens.
Luckily for the reader, Clarissa is surrounded by a swirling of spirits that keeps us interested. We encounter a ghost family haunted by their own violent deaths. Animals observe and respond to Clarissa without her notice.
But once Clarissa heads out of the house, her “undoing” takes us on one wild ride. Here we enjoy carnival dwarfs, a pet rattlesnake, a worm charmer, an errant one-armed almost-angel. And more ghosts, lots of them.
A few annoyances beyond the slow-as-molasses pace of the first half of the book: the foreshadowing was mighty thick, Clarissa is frequently annoyed by a Deepak Chopra voice in her head–it was annoying to me, too. I was disappointed that some of the most compelling stories, like the forgotten graveyard and the Cracker Cowboy, were left wide open.
But this is not your typical “oppressed woman finds her voice” story. Clarissa doesn’t fall into the waiting arms of an adoring lover. Instead, we leave her free-falling into the promise of a vibrant new life.
“How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly” would be a great book club choice, as it offers abundant atmosphere and superb storytelling with bits of literary flaws, making for great discussion.