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In Clara's Hands

In Clara's Hands

4.0 1
by Joseph Olshan

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Clara, heroine of Clara’s Heart and former nanny of Will Kaplan, comes once more to his rescue. Marie Claire, Will’s friend, may have been caught in the catastrophic jumbo-jet crash off Long Island. Yet, mysteriously, the airline throws her very boarding of the doomed plane into doubt. So where is she? As the conundrum looms, Will’s past


Clara, heroine of Clara’s Heart and former nanny of Will Kaplan, comes once more to his rescue. Marie Claire, Will’s friend, may have been caught in the catastrophic jumbo-jet crash off Long Island. Yet, mysteriously, the airline throws her very boarding of the doomed plane into doubt. So where is she? As the conundrum looms, Will’s past loves and obsessions unfold with gripping intensity—the ghost of his brother Daniel, killed in a fatal skiing accident, and the aching memories of his former lover Peter. Will and Clara are tied into a bond as strong as any blood family’s, and Will needs his old nanny’s wit and heart now more than ever.

Editorial Reviews

Financial Times
Olshans seventh novel … ticks faster than a stopwatch. Humor, feeling, perfect pitch. Olshan has it all.
Olshan holds together this tale of a family seeking comfort in difficult times with wit and empathy.
Marie Claire
Intense and gripping.
Time Out
Gay Times
An intriguing, moving story of love, death and madness.
Publishers Weekly
Olshan brings back the warm and waggish Jamaican housekeeper of his successful 1985 debut, Clara's Heart, but fans of that novel (or of Whoopi Goldberg's movie version) may be disappointed by how little page time she receives here. The novel centers on Will Kaplan (the hero of Olshan's Nightswimmer), who was raised by housekeeper Clara in a New York City suburb in the 1970s and is now a cartographer living in Burlington, Vt. He has befriended neighbor Marie Claire Arcenaux, the mother of his former lover Peter. The novel opens with Will learning that a jet has just crashed off of Long Island. Marie was scheduled for that flight, and Will assumes that she is dead. He soon learns that she was not on the plane, but the fact still remains that no one has seen or heard from her in days. Trying to unravel the mystery, Will calls Peter, who's in California supporting his sister, Grace as she undergoes treatment for Hodgkins disease. Will also asks Clara to come up to Burlington to help him find Marie. The woman's disappearance recalls for Will the trauma of his older brother's fatal skiing accident 20 years earlier, and also makes him realize how much he regrets breaking up with Peter. Olshan moves back and forth between Will, Peter, Clara and Marie's point of view. He probes their relationships sensitively, though the abundance of deaths, heartache and dramatic revelations sometimes has a made-for-TV feel. The witty, unpredictable Clara lights up the page; her ebullience is a welcome contrast to her fellow characters, who are uniformly paralyzed by the past. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Grim but tepid psychological thriller pieces together the enigma of a woman’s disappearance. Will Kaplan (from Nightswimmer, 1994) has a weird talent for escaping tragedy. Previously, he and his boyfriend went for a long swim and the boyfriend never came back; here, Will misses a flight that crashes into the ocean off Long Island with his friend Marie aboard. You can’t really call it luck, and it’s too much for Will, who retreats into a grief-stricken depression after the catastrophe and has to be nursed back to normal by his old Jamaican nanny Clara, who travels from Brooklyn all the way up to Burlington, Vermont (where Will works as a cartographer). Having arranged Marie’s trip in the first place, Will feels responsible for her death, but his guilt turns to confusion when the airline claims that Marie was not aboard. Where is she? Reluctantly, Will contacts her son Peter (with whom he had an unhappy affair some years before), who has no idea where his mother is. From Peter, though, Will does learn that Marie’s daughter Grace has been diagnosed with cancer, and in turn Grace tells him that Marie had considered canceling her trip to come and stay with her during her treatments. Clara even consults a seer in Jamaica to learn what became of Marie, but to no avail. Olshan, author of seven previous novels, tells his story from different points of view, and from Marie’s chapters we begin to see the outlines of an answer to the mystery. We also learn of the private demons from her past that drove Marie part of the way to her end. Soap opera: caricatures (the faithful nanny, haunted mother, jilted lover obsessed with his boyfriend) in a tale that tries to make up for its shallowness withimprobable twists of fate and endless (equally improbable) revelations from the lurid past.

Product Details

Bloomsbury UK
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.04(w) x 7.92(h) x 0.78(d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Olshan is the award–winning author of seven novels, including Nightswimmer, Vanitas, and Clara’s Heart, which was made into a film starring Whoopie Goldberg. He lives in Vermont and New York City.

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In Clara's Hands 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw some glowing notices of In Clara's Hands while traveling in the UK, where I guess the book has already been published. I picked up a copy and consumed it eagerly while traveling through Europe by train. A note of warning for all of you who are traveling by airplane. This is a wonderful novel, but you might not want to read it while flying; the central event is a plane crash that seems to be loosely based on the crash of TWA flight 800. Anyway, reading the strange review above posted by Kirkus (with which I completely disagree) inspired me to set down my own thoughts about Olshan's latest. First of all, it is beautifully constructed of three stories that in the end are seamlessly woven together. There is a thread of suspense running through the novel which is spun from the question of a whether or not a woman who was supposed to have boarded the airplane that crashed actually got on (her name doesn't appear on the passenger list). Then there is the author's signature character Clara, who starred in his earlier book, Clara's Heart. She is an amazing creation, full bodied, unpredictable, funny, wise and she speaks in this Jamaican patois that is both idiosyncratic and poetic. Teamed up with Will Kaplan (Nightswimmer), whom she took care of when he was a child, she tries to help him unravel the mystery of his friend's disappearance. One of my favorite things about this novel is how Olshan balances the mystery of disappearance with the rest of the action in the book. As he relates the lives of the other characters, the book is propelled along by the reader wanting to know what happened to Marie Claire. Besides Clara, there is also another amazing character in the book, Grace, the daughter of the missing Marie Claire. Grace, who is suffering from cancer, bravely faces her illness with fortitude and wry, fatalistic humor. Even though the reader knows her prognosis isn't good, her scenes manage to be uplifting rather than depressing. Perhaps this is because she seems so strong and her strength commands our admiration. I would highly recommend this book. It's rare to find a writer who spins a good yarn but also draws characters who have real depth.