Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler

Flap copy from hardcover:
Set amidst the lush pine forests and rich savannahs of Florida's Northern Panhandle, this is the story of one woman whose existence until now has seemed fairly normal: she is thirtysomething, married, and goes about her daily routine as a writer. But we soon learn that ghosts, an indifferent husband, and a seemingly terminal case of writer's block are burdening Clarissa's life. She awakes on the summer solstice and, prodded by her own discontent and one ghost's righteous need for truth, commences upon a twenty-four-hour journey of self-discovery. Her harrowing, funny, and startling adventures lead Clarissa to a momentous decision: she must find a way to do the unthinkable. Her life and the well-being of a remarkable family of blithe spirits hang in the balance.

Let me say first of all that this was a good read, full of the details that make Southern gothic novels so enjoyable. I was delighted by Fowler's strong narrative voice, and lush descriptions of the Florida landscape. I even enjoyed the ghosts that populated the story- in many ways, their stories seemed much more compelling than Clarissa's ever could.

For me, the difficulty with this novel lay in Clarissa herself, and her enthroned status as a complete doormat. This woman is a successful novelist who tolerates a husband who belittles her and conducts affairs right under her nose even as he lives off of her earnings. He hasn't touched her in years, she is dying by inches inside, and yet she worries about making his lunch or angering him? I just couldn't accept that as realistic- she should have kicked his ass to the curb long ago! I always like to find some aspect of a character that I can relate to my own life and story, but with Clarissa, this was just impossible.

That said, I did enjoy the book. I would have liked more followup on the cemetary, and certainly more focus on the story of the house and its ghosts, but at least in the end Clarissa was able to break free (at least in her mind) on the magical longest day of the year. Four stars because I just didn't like Clarissa as much as I liked the writing itself.


Connie May Fowler said...

Colleen, thank you so much for taking the time to read How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly and post your review. I greatly appreciate it! For your readers who might, God forbid, be in a dire domestic situation (it happens to all economic classes, all races), please log onto to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence help page: And to understand more about why we stay, read my memoir When Katie Wakes. And remember: verbal abuse is as damaging as physical abuse.

Again, thank you so much, Colleen. I hope you're feeling better!
PS: Book groups: Let's Skype!

Mrs C G said...

This book does look interesting; I love the fact its genre is southern Gothic fiction. I will definitely be picking this up soon. I am also going to check out Connie's website and c about the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. I do feel for the women who tolerate abuse so much; but as Connie mentions, they do have their reasons, so I pray God gives them the strength to change their lives.