Review

Spilling Clarence

by Anne Ursu

Read an Excerpt



For want of a new microwave…

The psychopharmaceutical plant at one end of Clarence has a small
fire when their ancient lunchroom micro spits out its last spark.
Then, a failure in the Emergency Procedures system leads to a
massive chemical spill of Deletrium, a drug whose only effect is
some serious mind messing. Nothing to fear, say the company
officials. We'll see.

Down the street, at Davis & Dean --- franchise bookseller with
in-store coffee shop --- patrons watch the ugly yellow smoke
descend upon their town. Understandably worried, they are skeptical
at the announcement that there is no imminent danger. Stay inside
for the next 24 hours, but aside from that, everything is fine,
they're told. Well, everything is definitely not fine.

Soon, the residents of this charming college village, located
somewhere in Minnesota, are besieged by their own memories. They
can remember every event that ever happened in their lives. For
some, the experience is distinctly unhealthy. For others, just
highly disruptive. Deep introspection is the best they can hope
for.

At the same time she laces the lives of her characters together,
author Anne Ursu also separates them as they retreat to examine or,
in some cases, flee from their pasts. The townsfolk of Clarence,
after the spill, form a special bond, one that is not apparent to
them until they emerge from the mental fog that temporarily blurs
their vision. Complex and diverse, the characters draw you into
their lives with the author's cinematic style. Anne Ursu has
fashioned a sampling of society and allows us a peek at their
innermost desires and dreads.

Bennie Singer, a psychology professor at local Mansfield
University, becomes immersed in grief for his dead wife, rendering
him almost inert, while his nine-year-old daughter Sophie fights
her own battles and, in ironic reversal, cares for her father and
grandmother. Meanwhile, Bennie's mother sequesters herself with her
thoughts and emotions, ultimately drawing the strength to snap out
of it from the love she has for her son and granddaughter. And a
young couple, very much in love, takes a closer look at their
relationship, what it has meant, what they expect it to be. Each
citizen of Clarence does much the same, and we wonder whether they
are suffering a past burden or rejoicing in remembered glee.

Ask yourself how much do you really want to remember? Then, if
you've answered that question truthfully, are there forgotten joys
you wish you could revisit? Really? How much detail can you handle?
In SPILLING CLARENCE, Anne Ursu shows us what a blessing memory can
be --- and what a curse. The town may survive the bombardment of
years of suppressed or supplanted memories, but no one comes out
unscathed, including the reader.

Living through the 280 pages of this book leaves you chuckling,
grinning, tearful, thoughtful, warmed, chilled and, not
surprisingly, reminiscent. Your good fortune, however, lies in the
fact that you can control where your mind wanders. Your good
fortune also lies in the fact that you have had the opportunity to
read a brilliant first novel. If you're still not convinced, stop
by Ms. Ursu's website, http://www.anneursu.com. Stroll around Clarence a
while. Check out the Davis & Dean bookstore. Sign the guestbook
at Sunny Shadows Estates retirement center. Read a couple of
articles from the Clarence Chronicle. Then see if you can
resist SPILLING CLARENCE.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 23, 2011

Spilling Clarence
by Anne Ursu

  • Publication Date: January 15, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 0786886625
  • ISBN-13: 9780786886623