Clara Callan: A novel

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9780002005012: Clara Callan: A novel

Two sisters, small-town Ontario, 1934. Canadian author Richard Wright tells their story, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, with an eye for the commonplace and poignant sense of the larger undercurrents that change people's lives.

Letters and journal entries form a portal into the desires and passions of two very different women, underscoring the larger tableau of an era stirring with great events--the Depression, rumblings of another world war, and the infancy of radio and show business entertainment. Love and betrayal, friendship and family, hope and deception are the forces that temper the lives of Clara, the spinster schoolteacher, and her sister Nora, "whose enter life is a performance."

Wright, a master of revealing the drama of seemingly unremarkable lives, constructs a powerful, mesmerizing narrative. Clara Callan is a deeply moving portrait of two women and of an age heralding seismic changes that will alter the fabric of their inner lives and the world as they once knew it.

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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 Back Cover:

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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