Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Book Review: How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Connie May Fowler

Hardcover, 288 Pages
Grand Central Publishing (April 2, 2010)

Review Copy received from Hachette Book Group for participation in the Manic Mommies Book Club

Summary from the Author's Website:
Set amidst the lush pine forests and rich savannas of Florida’s Northern Panhandle, HOW CLARISSA BURDEN LEARNED TO FLY tells the story of one woman whose existence until now has seemed fairly normal: she is 30-something, married, and goes about her daily routine as a writer. However, it is soon discovered 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. Connie May Fowler demonstrates her keen abilities as a storyteller in this remarkably original novel about an unexpected mid-life awakening. This is an empowering story that will resonate and be discussed for years to come.

My Thoughts:
I can understand why How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly is being selected for book clubs - there is a tremendous amount to be discussed in this novel.  The depth of topics, in a relatively fast read, is extensive and includes hints of mid-life crisis, marital distress, a search for the end to writer's block, ghosts seeking an opportunity to transition to their final realm, hope for redemption, and struggles against violence of the past.

Clarissa's character is wounded and she is searching for a way to improve her circumstance.  Fowler was extremely successful in weaving the storyline around Clarissa, even though there were multiple plots that were occurring throughout the story.  Early in the story, I began to route for Clarissa and wanted to help her on her journey.  To say that Clarissa's husband was not a likable character is an understatement.  He had a demeaning attitude toward Clarissa and his so-called career only helped to make Clarissa doubt herself more.

I was especially shaken by the vivid descriptions of the violence that occurred 200 years ago to the residents of Clarissa's home.  The description was lifelike and stirred a great deal of emotion.  Though the scene was only a small part of the novel, it stood out as a critical event and helped to tie each of the characters together.

The author asks the reader to take a bit of a leap of faith.  The presence of ghosts in the story, and the way they work to impact the lives of the living takes a bit of imagination and suspension of reality.  Despite this leap, however, the approach worked very well and helped to make the story whole. 

I enjoyed the novel very much, and recommend it to lovers of women's fiction, lovers of stories that show the empowerment of women, and stories that give a bit of a glimpse into how the past might intersect with our lives today.  Thanks to Hachette Book Group and the Manic Mommies Book Club for giving me the chance to read this book!

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  1. I think that an author's ability to write a good "villain" in a story is a lot harder than writing a plausible protagonist. That you disliked the husband in the book so much says a lot! I'm definitely going to have to read this one. Thanks for the review! :)

  2. I'm not a big fan of ghost stories, but it sounds like that's such a small part that it wouldn't mar my enjoyment of this book. Great review!