How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly

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Overview

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly is the transcendent story of a young woman who, in a twenty-four hour period, journeys through startling moments of self-discovery that lead her to a courageous and life-altering decision.

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How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly

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Overview

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly is the transcendent story of a young woman who, in a twenty-four hour period, journeys through startling moments of self-discovery that lead her to a courageous and life-altering decision.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this novel by best-selling author Fowler The Problem with Murmur Lee, past and present lives collide in magical and violent ways with surprising, liberating, and redeeming results. The colorful characters include an almost-angel, carnival dwarves, and anthropomorphic animals, and the result is folksy and sophisticated, and humorous yet at times grave and appalling, with the sins of the past clearly depicted. VERDICT A seductive and thoroughly satisfying read."—Library Journal

"In this magical, funny, at times heartbreaking book, Connie May Fowler has shown us that even a house fly can have a point of view. Compact and enchanting, yet achingly dark, it reminds me of the novels of Alice McDermott and Alice Hoffman that I love to read. Now Fowler gives us a mid-summer's night dream of her own!"

-Mary Morris, author of Revenge

"A huge-hearted, ebullient novel about ghosts, tragedy, love, redemption and one extraordinary woman's wild ride to self-discovery. Blazingly original, the remarkable Fowler breaks your heart, makes you believe in love, and whispers unbreakable truths about who we are really meant to be."

-Caroline Leavitt, author of Girls in Trouble

From the Publisher
"In this magical, funny, at times heartbreaking book, Connie May Fowler has shown us that even a house fly can have a point of view. Compact and enchanting, yet achingly dark, it reminds me of the novels of Alice McDermott and Alice Hoffman that I love to read. Now Fowler gives us a mid-summer's night dream of her own!"

-Mary Morris, author of Revenge

"A huge-hearted, ebullient novel about ghosts, tragedy, love, redemption and one extraordinary woman's wild ride to self-discovery. Blazingly original, the remarkable Fowler breaks your heart, makes you believe in love, and whispers unbreakable truths about who we are really meant to be."

-Caroline Leavitt, author of Girls in Trouble

Library Journal
In the little town called Hope, FL, it's the summer solstice, not only the longest but the hottest day of the year. On this day, Clarissa Burden's life changes irrevocably. Supporting a brutal husband who makes no living sketching and wooing frolicking female nudes and who deeply resents her successful career as a novelist, Clarissa needs release. Badly. Unbeknownst to her, there are ghosts living in her rambling home who need a release of their own. For all parties, enough is enough, and during this solstice day's long hours, things change forever. In this novel by best-selling author Fowler (The Problem with Murmur Lee) past and present lives collide in magical and violent ways with surprising, liberating, and redeeming results. The colorful characters include an almost-angel, carnival dwarves, and anthropomorphic animals, and the result is folksy and sophisticated, and humorous yet at times grave and appalling, with the sins of the past clearly depicted. VERDICT A seductive and thoroughly satisfying read.—Jyna Scheeren, NYPL
Publishers Weekly
In this gloomy novel, Fowler (Before Women Had Wings) presents a day in the life of writer Clarissa Burden, stuck in a loveless marriage and preoccupied with a joyless childhood. Memories of a cruel mother aren't the only things haunting Clarissa; a number of ghosts, including the 19th-century biracial family who had lived in Clarissa's Florida home, also weave themselves into Clarissa's story. Plagued by writer's block and suspicious of her photographer husband (and the nude models he employs), Clarissa leaves home for a day filled with spooky cemeteries, near-death experiences, life-altering conversations, exhilaration, and frustration. The plot tends to meander, incorporating not just incorporeal spirits but occasional jaunts into the minds of Florida's animals; still, Fowler produces some singularly memorable characters. By the time Clarissa stands up to her husband, readers will have suffered mightily through a sweltering Florida solstice, listening to the heroine's witty, sometimes whiney, internal monologue, and wishing for some real action. Fortunately, Fowler delivers on that wish, bringing together all her characters—dead, alive, and imagined—for an explosive conclusion. (Apr.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446540698
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 7/20/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Connie May Fowler is an essayist, screenwriter, and novelist. She is the author of five novels, most recently The Problem with Murmur Lee, and a memoir, When Katie Wakes. In 1996, she published Before Women Had Wings, which became a paperback bestseller and was made into a successful Oprah Winfrey Presents movie. She founded the Connie May Fowler Women With Wings Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to aiding women and children in need.

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First Chapter

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly


By Fowler, Connie May

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2010 Fowler, Connie May
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780446540681

On June 21, 2006, at seven a.m. in a malarial crossroads named Hope, Florida, the thermometer old Mrs. Hickok had nailed to the WELCOME TO HOPE sign fifteen years prior read ninety-two degrees. It would get a lot hotter that day, and there was plenty of time for it to do so, this being the summer solstice. But ninety-two at seven a.m., sunrise occurring only three hours earlier, suggested a harsh reckoning was in store for this swampy southern outpost. The weight of the humidity-laden situation pressed down on nearly all of the village’s inhabitants, including its sundry wildlife—squirrels, raccoons, possums, rats, deer, and one lone bobcat—each of whom, immersed in its particular brand of animal consciousness, paused (some even in slumber), noses twitching, tails snapping, all steeling themselves against the inevitable onslaught of the day’s hellish heat.

Hope’s only living being to appear unfazed by the rising mercury was Clarissa Burden, a thirty-five-year-old woman who’d moved to the north Florida hamlet six months prior with her husband of seven years. Trapped as she was in a haze of insecurities and self-doubt, and being long divorced from her animal consciousness, she peered out her opened kitchen window into her rose garden and felt an undoing coming on that was totally unrelated to the weather. It was as if her brain stem, corpuscles, gallbladder, nail cuticles, the mole on her left shoulder, the scar on her knobby shin, the tender corpus of her womb—the whole shebang—were about to surrender. But to what, she did not know.

She watched her husband—a multimedia artist who dabbled in painting, filmmaking, sculpture, pottery, and photography as long as his muse wore no clothes—alternately sketch and photograph a sweating young woman. With the exception of a silver ring piercing her belly button, the woman stood in the bright light of morning amid Clarissa’s roses as naked as the moment she was born.

Clarissa leaned windward to get a better look. Barefoot and still wearing the clothes she had slept in—a rumpled T-shirt and dirt-stained shorts—she tapped her finger on the screen’s dusty mesh, wondering what it felt like to be her husband’s muse. Was the young woman racked with insecurity, fearing the artist was casting judgment with each stroke of his charcoal pencil? Or was she empowered, fully aware of the spell that flesh cast on weak men?

Her husband, Igor “Iggy” Dupuy, paused from his sketching and wiped perspiration from his bald pate and big face. “You have beautiful skin, even when you sweat.” Clarissa took in every lyrical syllable her husband uttered. And while unhappy with their intent—even if it was a harmless observation—Clarissa had never grown tired of her husband’s accent. South African by birth, of Dutch ancestry, and American by choice, Iggy was actually born Igor Pretoriun but changed his last name, favoring a French influence, to distance himself from his birth country’s racial past. She appreciated that in him. It was something they had in common, both coming from a land of racial sins and both feeling it forever necessary to let people know that the old politic was never their politic. He was a tall, strapping man with hands twice the size of Clarissa’s. It was one of the things that caused her to fall in love with him eight years ago, this stature that far outpaced her own.

Unwilling to continue to spy—that’s what it felt like to her, but only because Iggy wanted her nowhere near him while he worked—she floated her attention past her husband and the young woman, beyond the towering magnolia with its opulent white flowers that Clarissa so loved, to the field south of the rose garden. There, hidden amid tall blades of grass, a black snake shed its skin. The snake, nearly finished with the process, soaked up the sun’s early heat, enjoying the sensation of warmth on freshly minted scales, while all but two inches of its old self draped behind in the grass like a dull transparent cape, an afterthought.

If she had known the snake was out there, Clarissa’s sense of imminent implosion might have lifted, because, while not stupid, she was superstitious and believed that the presence of a snake meant she was going to come into money. Without good cause except for a writer’s ingrained insistence on avoiding clichés, she had long overlooked the importance of shed skin and what that might predict. She batted at a fly that had been pestering her ever since she’d put on the coffee. If it weren’t so hot and if her husband weren’t out there with a naked woman, she would have gone for a walk. They owned ten highly treed acres, and she was taken with it all: leaf and petal, blade and stamen. The north Florida landscape reminded her of abundance; it was such a far cry from the south Florida, palm-tree-stuttered trailer park of her youth.

She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. A cacophony of scents enveloped her, the floral high notes mingling with the musky scent of things dying. Clarissa was proud of her garden. It was becoming what she had envisioned the first time she’d stepped onto the property: her own private Eden, genteel and spilling over with rosebuds, jasmine, pendulous wisteria. Every time she tucked a plant’s roots into the rich soil, she felt the distance between her adult life and her fatherless childhood grow ever greater. And that was a very good thing. She opened her eyes. The snake wandered into taller grass, leaving its former skin behind. Clarissa saw the grass sway but didn’t think a thing of it. She was meandering through her garden’s history: how she had, without her husband’s labor or input, dreamed, planned, tilled, planted, sweated over, bled over, and adored her garden into existence. Wind rippled through the branches, bringing not a respite from the weather, but a mobile wall of heat. Clarissa tightened her ponytail, shimmying it up a tad higher on her head, and decided that she hadn’t wanted his help. Not really. Her husband ignoring dirt, and plants, and compost was, she knew, the least of her matrimonial worries.

Iggy’s big voice cut through the humid air. “Aye, Christ, this heat!”

“But when you sweat,” his model said, “sex is the best.”

Fowking A, sweetie, fowking A!” That’s how he said “fuck,” as if the vowel were an o; stupid man. Determined to ignore them, Clarissa scanned the far boundary of her yard, where the regimental hand of her design gave way to the exuberant chaos of an oak grove. She watched a pileated woodpecker on those long wings with their lightning bolt patches of black and white dart through the cloud-free sky, and she considered the possibility that the malaise her marriage had slipped into was (a) inevitable; (b) temporary; and (c) possibly fatal. The woodpecker zigzagged over the treetops, cawed raucously, and then disappeared into the swamp’s verdant green veil.

Batting again at that annoying fly, Clarissa thought, Iggy’s art is his kingdom, but I am not his queen. He had many queens, models all: She was very clear about that issue. And also this one: He had not touched her—not so much as a peck on the cheek, an arm around her waist, a caress amid dreams on a warm night—in nearly two years. His amorous intentions had not stopped like a switch being flipped. They had slowly—over a period of… Clarissa wasn’t sure, maybe four or five years—evaporated. Maybe, she thought as she scratched at a raw mosquito bite on her elbow, this is normal; maybe all men lose interest in their wives; maybe the whole “seven-year itch” thing should be renamed “24/7, 365 days from the get-go” itch.

As she stood there, looking at her garden teeming with hidden but complex activity—grubs eating tender roots, parasites sucking precious sap from nimble stems, mole rats digging underground labyrinths—she thought back to the first time they had met. They were both living in Gainesville. She had taken a visiting writers gig at the University of Florida, and he was an artist everyone in town wanted to know, because in those days he was funny and expansive; he didn’t constantly bitch, and the whole foreigner thing was in.

A mutual friend who taught in the History Department, Jack Briggs, had invited a dozen or so people over to watch President Clinton’s televised address regarding an alleged tryst he’d had with a White House intern. She and Iggy never saw the president speak, because not long after Jack introduced them in the kitchen, they wandered onto the back porch, where they settled into a couple of rocking chairs and talked for a good three hours.

Clarissa had been immediately struck by Iggy’s otherness—his height, his big-boned frame, his Afrikaner accent that, she would discover, grew thick and impenetrable when he was angry or drunk. He was sixteen years her senior, and because she’d never known her father, she’d decided an older man in her life might offer stability.

Standing in June’s webbed heat, thinking about that first meeting, Clarissa felt her heart swell with love and hate. She remembered gazing up at him, thinking he had the most amazing imperial blue and to-drown-in eyes, when he said, “I fowking hate the Afrikaners and what they did to the country. All the whites should leave, including my family. It is not their land. It is the black man’s. Every last drop of white blood should leave the continent.”

He placed his immense hand on her shoulder and squeezed. His touch thrilled her, as did his passion. Still young and inexperienced in the art of seduction, she tried to appear slightly bored, because boredom—she thought at the time—was an interesting, artsy conceit. “So, your family is still there?”

As men are wont to do with their facial hair, especially when it’s the only hair they have, he stroked his beard, which, she decided, made him appear thoughtful, smart, and I’m-too-sexy-for-my-politics in a Marxian sort of way. “They will never leave,” he said, leveling his eyes to hers. “They love their money and their land too much.” He swirled his Scotch, studying it, and then leaned in very close to her. She could smell the oak-and-oat aroma on his breath. “But it’s not their land. They stole it and delude themselves into thinking God gave it to them.” He tapped his temple. “My parents don’t deserve me to be their son. My sisters and brothers don’t deserve to breathe the same air as I.” He shot her a smile that was a nearly irresistible mix of self-deprecation and ego. “Racist bastards!”

As he spoke, his Dutch face, which seemed to Clarissa to be impossibly long and redolent with the hint of shadows, reminded her of someone Rembrandt would have painted. And at that moment, she had wanted him to kiss her. She found the very idea of him disowning his family on moral and political grounds to be courageous. Blinded by the hormones of early love, she did not see that it might also indicate a man who easily divorced himself from loyalties and truth. She did not ask, “If a man walks away from his mother because he seriously disagrees with her politics, how deep is his allegiance to a wife?”

Clarissa picked at the mosquito bite until it bled. The fly settled on the window’s top sash, and from there, the scent of her skin and faint suggestion of blood enveloping him, he watched her. Though a mere insect, the fly had a complex existence, full of near death experiences and matters of the heart. With a life span of only fifteen to thirty days—and that was without humans swatting at you—he lived in a perpetual state of pregnant urgency, as if each moment might be his last. He was well aware that he was in love with this human who, he thought, with her fair skin that often carried the scent of ripe apples, was the most beautiful creature in his world. At that moment, while she searched her yard for reasons he didn’t grasp, the fly wanted nothing more than to light in her blond curls and never leave.

Oblivious to his intentions (how could one ever know the hidden desires of insects?), Clarissa ignored him. Her gaze drifted from the fringe of lesser oaks and skinny towers of bald cypress to the sprawling backdrop of a giant sentinel oak whose trunk was of such circumference, she believed it would take ten people, arms outstretched, fingertip to fingertip, to encircle it. This is where the swamp began. Jake’s Hell was a gator-and-mosquito-infested expanse of fetid water that led, as far as she could tell, to absolutely nowhere. But the oak was beautiful; its widespread crown was home to a heron couple that rose daily into the dawn sky, squawking as they ascended, and returned at dusk—one behind the other—still squawking. In her six months here, Clarissa had grown attached to the birds and their noisy pronouncements. They were a real team: hunting, gathering, loving. And she found herself, even on this still young and fragile June solstice, hoping that the herons portended change: a wild turn toward passion in her marriage. This morning she had missed the birds; dawn had come earlier than she had expected. As she turned away from the window and the garden where her husband was asking his model to look toward the wisteria vine, and yes, yes, lower her chin just a bit, Clarissa concluded that the detour in her routine—not seeing the birds take wing at first light—was the reason for her unease.

She stepped into the center of the room—no chance to watch her husband from there—and decided she needed something to keep her unsettled mind occupied. Perhaps she should be a couch potato for the day. Watch TV, turn on CNN. The war in Iraq—the casualties, the lies, the misery delivered on the wings of ineptitude, the casual quagmire of it all—infuriated her, and she wondered why Americans, including herself, hadn’t taken to the streets, demanding an end to an immoral war. It was as if the entire world, in the early years of a new century, had given up believing in higher callings. Peace, love, and understanding felt like quaint ideas proffered by naive people. She absentmindedly rubbed the back of her left calf with her right foot’s big toe and took in her farmhouse kitchen—its marble-topped oak island where she kept her mixer and rolling pin and food processor, the Marilyn Monroe cookie jar that was stuffed with pink sugar substitute packets (the fly lit on the tip of Marilyn’s nose; Clarissa shooed it away), the jadeite dishware stacked in pale green heaps behind glass-front cabinet doors—and she decided that the new century didn’t feel new at all. It felt overwhelming, as if change were out of reach and stagnation all the rage.

Clarissa tapped her fingers on the marble—it was still cool to the touch—and noticed that quivers of dried rosemary littered her Spanish tile floor. Yes indeed, the floor needed a good cleaning. Her ovarian shadow women (that’s what she called the exuberant chorus of voices that swirled up from, she supposed, the depths of her unconscious and did their best to alternately ease her rising anxieties and inflame them beyond all reason) clucked and twittered, but she could not understand a damn thing they said.

She grabbed her broom and began sweeping, gathering the rosemary quivers into a diminutive, spiky pile, when finally, one voice—it sounded suspiciously like Bea Arthur—broke through the chaos and asked, “Don’t you have a novel to write?”

Then they all chimed in, prattling among themselves that, yes, she surely did, whatever was she thinking, it was high time she stopped procrastinating, sweeping up rosemary wasn’t going to pay the mortgage.

Clarissa shoved the broom into the space between her fridge and the wall. “Oh, be quiet,” she said, exasperation cooling her tendency toward long vowels. Noticing that the coffeepot was still on, she flipped it off. She knew the ovarian shadow women were correct, but she also felt helpless to remedy the situation. Clarissa Burden, author of two highly acclaimed and best-selling novels, had not written one decent sentence in over thirteen months. The longer the dry spell dragged on, the greater her fear of facing the virtual blank pages of her word processor. And the fear on that June morning was enough to inspire in her a slew of mundane tasks—sweeping, dusting, vacuuming, dishwashing—all designed to prevent her from laying even a single finger on her keyboard.

She pulled her T-shirt away from her body—she was finally beginning to succumb to the high morning heat—and thought about closing the windows and cranking the air-conditioning, but if she did that, she wouldn’t be able to hear what was being said in her garden. Besides, in these past few weeks she had learned just how challenging it was to cool a circa 1823 home.

She retrieved the dustpan from its hiding place behind the door and, using her hand, pushed the rosemary into it. As she walked over to the trash can, she considered the advantages of hygiene. Maybe she should shower and dress and put on makeup. This was not like her, to sloth around in dirt-stained shorts, a T-shirt reeking with the sleep-stink, her face not yet washed; but she had awoken to the solstice, fully convinced that nothing interesting was going to happen on this clear, hot day, so therefore there was no need for pretense or the appearance of hopefulness. She attempted to dump the herb pile into the can, but the wind gusted, scattering the rosemary.

“Shit,” she muttered. Even the wind was conspiring against her. On a normal day, Clarissa would have tried again, but being addled, she simply gave in, returned the dustpan to its hiding place, walked over to her sink, washed her hands, and wiped her hands on her belly as if she had no manners whatsoever.

As she leaned against the counter, considering her next move, music, faint at first and then more vigorous, wafted into the kitchen, but she couldn’t tell from where. Tilting her head, she tried to zero in: a fiddle swirling a strange and lovely melody. Two nights prior, she had drifted up from a deep sleep, feeling guided and tugged by a similar tune. She had dismissed it as dream music—syncopated, foreign. But here she was, wide awake, and it was back.

She walked into the central room that, architecturally, was your typical shotgun affair (you could shoot a gun through the front door and the bullet would, barring impact with a human being, a hound dog, or ill-placed furniture, zip straight through the house and out the back door). But the large space with its gleaming French crystal chandelier and gracious curved staircase left no doubt that this house had little in common with typical southern shotgun shacks; unlike Clarissa’s home, they appealed solely by virtue of their simplicity.

Clarissa peered out of the wavy, thick glass of the double doors that led onto the back porch and into the garden to see if her husband had brought out the boom box. Her red geraniums, planted in terra-cotta pots, lined either side of the railing. In the halcyon light of the morning sun, they appeared too perfect to be real. She did not see a boom box or any other sort of music-playing apparatus but was aware that her husband had just touched the hard edge of the model’s jaw with his index finger and angled her face to the light. She was also aware that the model closed her eyes—probably against the glare—and that when she did, the music faded altogether.

The ovarian shadow woman who sounded like Bea Arthur said, “You have got to get away from those idiots in the backyard.”

“Yes, yes, I do,” Clarissa said, standing beneath the chandelier, not noticing that the fly had lit on one of its lower crystal prisms. She wanted to feel sunny, bountiful, in control, not jealous and ticked. Her hands itched to dig in dirt. Dirt, without a doubt, made her happy. And then she thought, Of course! Flowers! Cut some flowers; the front yard is chock-full of them. But before she could get to her pruning shears, which she kept in the laundry room situated down a hall off of the kitchen and to the right, or to the front door and outside to the rosebushes she’d planted five months ago by the porch steps, she heard Iggy instruct his model to spread her legs wider.

At that very moment, under the soft changing light of the chandelier, Clarissa Burden wanted her husband dead. She stomped through her kitchen, down a hallway (the house, like her brain, was a maze of hallways leading to rooms that she frequented so rarely, they sometimes surprised her), into the laundry room, a realization washing over her that would, in due course, change her forever: Not only did she want Iggy dead, she spent at least 90 percent of her waking hours and a good portion of her dreamtime fantasizing about said death. Oh, my God, she thought as she reached for the shears she kept on a hook to the right of the dryer, it was true. And disgusting. Contemptible. Obscene. She gripped the shears, unlocked them, and said, “Holy shit.” She’d gone from being a writer who spun whole worlds from her imagination, populating thousands of pages with stories people wanted to read, to being a discontented wife consumed with spousal death scenarios.

There was no denying it. These send-him-to-the-grave vignettes welled up randomly inside the withering fields of her imagination, devoid top to bottom of literary merit. She searched her laundry basket for that pair of gardening gloves she’d washed just yesterday. Could it be, she wondered, sifting through underwear and tees (the fly now perched on the dryer door), that these death dreams were consuming every last drop of her creative energy? Were these negatively charged fantasies the source, the cause, perhaps the very nexus of her block? In an instant—blink, blink—what had the makings of a lengthy self-interrogation came to a whiplashing halt as she, with no will or discipline, tumbled straight into the dark heart of a death scenario rerun—one of her most popular, judging by how frequently she tuned in. She continued to search for her gloves, but in action only; in her head, she was on the scene of a grisly tragedy, one that changed little from episode to episode.

Clarissa saw herself with twenty-twenty clarity: Wearing a yellow sundress and black strappy sandals, she stood at the edge of the cane, cotton, and sorghum fields that lined the two-lane blacktop leading into town. Why she was by the road in the middle of an agricultural area, she didn’t know. But she didn’t need to; this was a fantasy, not a novel. Enveloped in the stench of manure and pesticides, she shaded her eyes with her hand and watched her husband, who had just left the house to attend to whatever affairs a multimedia artist must attend to, zip by in his green Honda Civic with the Monica Lewinsky bobblehead doll grooving on the dash. The sun was so intense, the asphalt appeared unstable, as if Florida’s legendary heat had transmuted the road into a river of molten black lava.

She saw, with the aid of God’s omniscient eye, her husband squint into the shimmying distance, lower the sun visor, and with his right hand spin the radio dial. He did not like American popular music, and given that the state of radio had declined since his youth (a splendid childhood spent on the family farm in the foothills of the Witzenberg Mountains), playing nothing but pop (which he could put up with only when he was in one of his rare generous moods) and country (which he loathed, claiming it gave him migraines and lower intestinal turbulence), he flipped off the radio and—steering with his left hand—reached under the passenger seat to retrieve a CD.

The road was narrow and winding; if a person allowed his focus to wander, or if he was unable to stop multitasking, or if he was impaired by drink or smoke or a desire to hear Howlin’ Wolf wail “Smokestack Lightnin’,” could not an accident easily happen?

Clarissa found the gloves at the bottom of the basket. She grabbed them and the shears, walked into the kitchen, opened her cupboard, retrieved a drinking glass, filled it with tap water, and nodded her head yes. In fact, she believed any number of fatal endings could result, but on this day, as the solstice sun slowly rose higher and higher in that heat-blanched sky, her continuous loop fantasy offered only one thing: Her husband did not realize that as he groped for a tune he could live with, he had crossed the double yellow lines. His only clue, a blasting horn, came too late. Three seconds before impact—in that zone where time takes on the all-knowing, all-penetrating, boundary-free quality of God—he grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, held her steady, and slammed the brakes. His face went slack with what was perhaps amazement as he realized that the last thing he would see in this old world was the love bug–splattered grille of an eighteen-wheeler.

Clarissa downed the water in one huge gulp, as if it were whiskey. She set the glass on the counter and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Seized with guilt (she didn’t really want her husband dead, did she?), she attempted to steady herself by focusing: her glove’s quaint blue daisy pattern, the brain-drilling buzz of that fly, the shadow of the Marilyn Monroe cookie jar wavering like mutant ink on her tile floor, the rosemary quivers scattered like ash. She opened the sink cabinet in search of a plastic bucket she’d stuffed there several weeks ago.

As she reached into the dark, humid abyss, a black widow spider that lived in the top right corner watched her giant arm approach. The spider twitched her legs, readied her fangs, prepared to defend her egg sac if necessary.

Oblivious, Clarissa waded through Drano, Raid, Goop, Mr. Clean, Tilex, Windex, Pine-Sol, Clorox spray, plastic disposable gloves, ammonia, baking soda (she was unaware that she had all the ingredients to build an explosive device), and a package of roach bombs before laying her hand on the rim of the bucket (it had fallen on its side in the far nether reaches, behind the bomb-making ingredients). She lifted it by the handle, tearing a small hole in the black widow’s web.

An icy surge of venom filled the spider’s fangs.

Clarissa pulled herself upright (relieved that the giant arm was retreating, the black widow withdrew and began repairing the hole in her web) and—dizzy-headed but determined to try to make something of this moment in June—filled the bottom third of the bucket with water. Her blue eyes bright with the excitement that comes with a decision well made, she grabbed the gloves and shears and ferried everything, water sloshing, to her front yard, far from Iggy and his model, where she would immerse herself in the business of cutting roses: peach-colored roses with thorn-studded stems and thick, serrated, crimson-tinged leaves. Their citrus-and-velvet scent would clear her mind. She would stop thinking about ways her husband might die. She would map out her novel and make a mental list of funny, smart, despicable, and fascinating characters. She would find joy in the satisfying snap the shears made with each angled cut. Come hell or high water, she would find a way to love this day. That’s what Clarissa Burden told herself, her imagination stirring with possibilities, as she stepped out of her house and into the bright heat of this long morning.



Continues...

Excerpted from How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly by Fowler, Connie May Copyright © 2010 by Fowler, Connie May. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Clarissa comes into her own!

    I admit that when I read about Clarisse Burden in her large, well cared for and beautifully proportioned house with a husband frolicking with nude models in the garden, I didn't sympathize with Clarisse. I kept wanting her to get angry and kick the deadbeat out of her house!

    But as Clarisse's personal history, wit and personality unfolded, I slowly sympathized and could understand why she didn't call her husband on his ludicrous behavior. Albeit, I kept hoping that she would. Getting to know Clarisse - her kindness and generosity to the young reporter, her wry internal voice, and interest in her surroundings - helped draw me in.

    Once I got into it, I thoroughly enjoyed How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly. Clarissa's voice is smart, observant, and a little sad. As she focuses on other people and their stories, she becomes engaged and you see how Clarissa was able to write stories that touched people's lives. If you're looking for an unusual absorbing read, I highly recommend How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly.

    ISBN-10: 0446540684 - Hardcover
    Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (April 2, 2010), 288 pages.
    Review copy provided by the publisher.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2012

    Loved it!

    Original and will keep your interest.

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  • Posted April 26, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    24 Hours that changed a life

    Connie May Fowler gives her readers perspective on how one day can change a life forever. Moreover, Clarissa teaches the reader that sometimes when we hit what we perceive as the very lowest depths of hell on earth, we discover that the surface is a trampoline that catapults us to new high.

    How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly would be a great Book Club selection. Discussion topics can run from writer's block and how those of us who are reader/writers combat it to the more serious issues of abuse and adultery.

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  • Posted April 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Left me feeling so empowered.

    This book left me feeling so empowered. I felt like I was Clarissa Burden at points. I didn't have the same pressures she had growing up, and as far as I know my boyfriend hasn't started photographing models in the nude in our backyard (although he has grown awfully fond of our new Mustang...LOL) but I have the same self-doubt about myself.

    I love how everything in this book has a perspective on what is going on. From the fly in the beginning to the armadillo and rats in the end their actions are described in how it relates to what is going on in the story. I won't even begin to guess the reason for this, but to me it signified that everything has a conscience and is aware of what is going on around them. Which is something I wholly agree with.

    The title is so appropriate for this book. From Clarissa's day dreams to the end of the book, everything she does leads up to her flying in so many interpretations of the word. The characters were great, even the ones that I loathed. I connected to much with Clarissa that I could feel what she was going through, physically and emotionally. Not only did I laugh a few times, but I also was near tears a few times. While the abuse Clarissa suffered from her husband wasn't physical it still was hurtful, and when Iggy talks to Clarissa I wanted her to tell him to shove it and leave him. Because if I were in her situation that is what I would want to do (but I don't think I'd word it as nicely... LOL).

    There's so much I want to say about this one, but I don't want to give ANYTHING away. The story resonated so much with me that I want to tell the world about it, and at the same time I think that every one will get something different from this one so I want you to have your own opinion. To me it was about Clarissa learning to rise above what she's been told about herself her entire life, which is also what she believes about herself (at least at the most basic level of the story).

    So in fear that I'm going to word something wrong and ruin the story for someone else I'll just say again that it was an empowering book and leave it at that. I highly recommend this one to everyone!

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  • Posted April 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bridget's Review

    It is an understatement to see that Clarissa has some negativity going on in her life. Her husband is jealous of her writing success. Her husband never amounted to much but to hear him talk, you would think she was the failure. Going from one bad situation to another, Clarissa begins to wonder why she has let herself get into such a funk. A change needs to be made and it all happens in the span of 24 hours.

    This is one of those books that really captivates you and you can't help but feel changed for the better. I felt like I was right there with Clarissa. If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be inspirational.

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  • Posted March 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is a whimsical character tale

    In Hope, Florida, as the summer solstice proves to be the hottest day of the year, thirtyish successful novelist Clarissa Burden wonders how her life could be so miserable. She knows the reason is her envious spouse Igor "Igy" Dupuy, a failed multimedia artist who draws nudes in an effort to bed them. He has replaced her mother as her personal put down artist.

    Clarissa needs to escape from his indifference, but sees no hope in doing so. However, she is unaware that the house she shares with the brute also contains ghosts. She and the spirits want freedom so on the longest day of the year, the heat inside the Burden home has become hotter than hell.

    This is a whimsical character tale that grips the audience once the stage is set as the reader will want to know whether Clarissa suffering from writer's block and spousal cruelty is losing her mind or do ghosts, a carnival cast and animals communicate with her. Fans will relish Clarissa as she seeks escaping her troubles by learning to fly solo the hard way.

    Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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