Clara Callan: A Novel

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9780006392125: Clara Callan: A Novel

Underneath the seemingly ordinary lives of Wright's characters are entire worlds of emotion that, once entered, become wildy unpredictable. Clara Callan has that capacity to surprise, to draw the reader below the smooth surface of convention into a world of passion, where secrets percolate and sudden, unexpected violence erupts.

Clara Callan is set in the middle of the Great Depression, chronicling the lives of two sisters.Clara is a spinsterish school teacher whose quiet life in a small Ontario town masks a passion for love and adventure.Nora, her flighty and very pretty sister, travels to New York where she lands a starring role in a radio soap opera.

Written in diary and letter form, the novel brilliantly reveals the sisters' stories, as their lives become increasingly complex.Not since Brian Moore wrote I Am Mary Dunne has a male writer captured so well the inner life of female characters.And with Wright's extraordinary eye for small but telling details, the world of the thirties comes vividly to life, an era when show business was in its infancy, and the Dionnes grabbed the headlines, when Automats were a futuristic way of buying fast food and the Women's Auxiliary still ruled the social roost in small towns everywhere.Above all, Wright's portrait draws a world of young women -- pre-divorce, pre-Pill, pre-liberation, where judgment weighed heavily upon anyone who defied convention.

Clara Callan is so elegantly and seamlessly constructed that the reader enters it effortlessly and does not depart willingly.Readers and reviewers will agree: Clara Callan shows a writer at the top of his form

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Review:

A finely detailed depiction of the Depression era, Richard B. Wright's 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, Amazon.ca

From the Inside Flap:

In the midst of the Great Depression, two sisters from small-town Ontario pursue separate destinies. While Nora escapes to New York City to become the glamorous star of a radio soap opera, her older sister Clara follows a more conventional route, staying home and teaching school. Yet, as Clara's diary and the sisters' letters reveal, beneath the seeming ordinariness of her daily life the spinster schoolteacher hides dark secrets and clandestine longings. In his sensitive portrait of a quietly passionate woman who defies social mores, Richard B. Wright brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the 1930s, when show business was still in its infancy and the world trembled on the edge of war.

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