Thursday, December 4, 2014
Brock Clarke's THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD
I've been making promises here (then breaking them) to write about Brock Clarke's new novel, The Happiest People in the World (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). I've written in recent weeks about Clarke himself, about his visit in April 2008 to the campus of Western Reserve Academy, where he spent a day visiting classes, speaking to an assembly, lunching with creative writing students, etc. He was great. Oh, and he also endured a dinner at our house with the WRA English Department. (Guess how many of his books I got him to sign? Can you spell all of them?)
His newest is a wild, wild ride, and I kept hoping as I was reading that Quentin Tarantino will read the book, quickly buy the rights, quickly make the film. Remember the scene near the end of the late Tony Scott's True Romance (screenplay by Tarantino, 1993) when all the principals (most of them Bad Guys) end up in a single hotel room, a room that very soon becomes about the bloodiest shootout this side of, oh, a Peckinpah film--or any of the recent ones featuring Stallone and many large automatic weapons?
Let me just give you an idea of some of those involved in Clarke's tale--the CIA, a Danish cartoonist who's hiding out, former lovers, a schoolteacher, a bartender in Maine (all these principals will eventually assemble in a small town in Maine), some Islamic terrorists, some dour teens, and on and on.
Clarke cleverly weaves all of these strands throughout--moving freely about in time, as well--but the momentum is forward toward ... Confrontations.
In many of his stories and novels is a sharp satirical edge, and he continues slicing away here at all sorts of targets--at human pretensions (there's a teacher who insists on being called Dr.--Clarke uses italics with this title, all the way through), at small-town mores and mischief, at obsessiveness of all sort, at Americans (one character thinks: "Americans were very impatient people with very short attention spans"--92), at school activities (there's a great faculty-vs-students baseball game--in the snow), and on and on.
But--as he shows in his best work--there's a darkness here, too. Let's just say that things don't work out for everyone, that Love does not always Triumph, that Virtue is not always Rewarded.
What is rewarded here is careful reading. A sense of humor. A sense of compassion.
Clarke also has some stylistic fun here. Some of his sentences go, as Tolkien would say of roads, "ever ever on." Try this one on for size ... I'll give you just part of it, a tiny taste. Of course, the "sentence" is not really a sentence (it is many sentences), but it's Clarke's way of showing us how the mind of this particular character works.
I am in love, Locs thought, I have been in love before, I have been in love before with the same person, I know that that same person had been in love with me, and yet that love did not work out so well, that loved ended up terribly, all love ends up terribly, why deny that all love ends if anything other than terribly, that is what it means to live in the world, it is so wearying to live in the world, this is why the world makes us weary, it makes us weary so that we're too weary to love again, and yet the world also gives us another chance, and now I have another chance to see the person I love, because I still love this person, I still love this person so much, after everything that has happened between us, that must make this love different from all other loves that ended up terribly, including our own love that ended up terribly, that only seemed to end up terribly, because true loves never really ends, love, love, love, love renews the world, it changes people, it changes the world ... (114).
Be prepared for quite a ride with Brock Clarke--as always. You may think you know where's you're going. But you don't. And when the surprises come, you're amused, horrified, depressed. Educated.