Spilling Clarence: A Novel

Spilling Clarence: A Novel

3.5 17
by Anne Ursu

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What if you could suddenly remember everything that ever happened to you, every joy and every sorrow that you had ever endured? Would it be a blessing—or a curse?

This is the fate of the residents of the town of Clarence, who fall under the spell of a strange and powerful drug that unlocks their memories. The past comes flooding back without the buffer of

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What if you could suddenly remember everything that ever happened to you, every joy and every sorrow that you had ever endured? Would it be a blessing—or a curse?

This is the fate of the residents of the town of Clarence, who fall under the spell of a strange and powerful drug that unlocks their memories. The past comes flooding back without the buffer of time, and the townspeople, young and old, find themselves awash in their own reminiscences—of love and death, of war and childhood, of happiness they've experienced, and sins they've committed.

Beautifully rendered with a light comic touch, this bittersweet novel is about more than the sum of its beguiling parts. Spilling Clarence explores our relationship with our histories, the seductive pull of regret, the unreliability of memory, and the bliss of forgetting. A universe peopled by exquisitely drawn characters, Spilling Clarence is a moving introduction to the impressive talents of an exciting new writer.

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Editorial Reviews

New Orleans Times-Picayune
Anne Ursu's first novel is a heartbreaking trip down memory lane . . . Ursu does a wonderful job in this imaginative and charming novel, a must for fans of such writers as Anne Tyler and Alice Hoffman. She knows that the best we can wish for her characters -- and ourselves -- is a life without regret.
St. Louis Post Dispatch
It has competence and style - light, wry, dreamlike, almost cartoonlike at times.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Warm, playful, and magical.
Carlin Romano
Slowly, charmingly, painfully, Spilling Clarence unfolds dimensions of how our pasts and presents intermingle, how our dreams and memories feed off one another. No scalpel can touch the truths Ursu locates, from "the specific kind of hope that comes before love," to an old man's worry "about how dry and rough his lips must be, how wiry his hair is, how aged and desiccated his face must feel when held against the hand's memory of another face."...Some first novels read like homework exercises assigned by an aesthetic ideologue. Reel off 33 sentences in a row without a passive verb! Pack so much "inventiveness" into your first chapter that the assaulted reader yells "Uncle!" or "Genius!" Insist on the brilliance of your private vision regardless of whether any normal page-turner could share the precious sensibility.Other first novels flow as naturally as a mountain rapid, splashing you enough to drive home the certainty that there's much more to come - insights that make sense, issues and instincts real enough to demand that you stay alert."Counter vague ideas with sharp images," director Jean-Luc Godard urged artists. Anne Ursu counters vague longings with sharp afterimages. When Harris Jones reopens its plant, officials assure one and all that the deletrium spill will have "no permanent effects." You can't say the same about Spilling Clarence, which lingers.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Janet Steen
Anne Ursu’s first novel revolves around a wonderfully original premise: What if the vaults of memory were suddenly opened, and people could recall everything that had ever happened to them? In the fictional townof Clarence, Minnesota—an altogether bland and ordinary place—a fire at apharmaceutical factory releases a chemical into the air that triggers powerful memories in all the inhabitants. A kind of mass melancholy settles over the community as people tumble back in time and recollect long-buried episodes from their lives: A man remembers every nuance of the wife he adored and lost in acar accident; a World War II veteran relieves a traumatic combat experience. Even the animals of Clarence become unglued. Gradually, though, the pain of these suppressed memories gives way to something transcendent as the townspeople begin to share their experiences with one another. Evoking the workof Anne Tyler and Alice Hoffman, this whimsical, bittersweet debut suggests that the stories of our lives are what save us.
Us Weekly
Publishers Weekly
First novelist Ursu comes off as an Alice Hoffman wannabe who doesn't quite make the grade. Like Hoffman, she creates a small community here, the fictional Midwestern town of Clarence and describes a dramatic event that causes several characters to undergo life changes. When a leak at a psychopharmaceutical factory spills a drug called deletrium into the atmosphere, strange psychological reactions afflict Clarence's residents. One by one, they are traumatized by memories of the past that they had previously buried. Bernie Singer, a widowed psych professor at local Mansfield University, is forced to remember the auto accident that killed his wife and left him to raise alone his precocious daughter, Sophie, now nine years old. Bernie's mother, Madeline, a well-known novelist who is now blocked, is disturbed by memories of her relationship with her dead husband. Susannah Korbet, who works at Madeline's retirement home, must deal with her guilt about her mother's illness, while her fianc , a grad student whose specialty is memory studies, undergoes his own crisis. Ursu's what-if scenario is diverting to some degree, but the paint-by-numbers plot development soon becomes labored, and the relentlessly perky prose style calls attention to itself with too arch irony. The characters speak like robots who've never used a vernacular contraction, stiffly uttering "cannot" or "will not" or "do not" even in relaxed conversation, and the repetition of almost identical sentence patterns echoes the sing-song cadences of children's books. While the story is lightly engaging, Ursu never establishes the suspension of disbelief that Hoffman accomplishes with such dexterity. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This gentle first novel explores what would happen if you could remember everything that ever happened to you: every triumph and tender moment, every snub and indignity, every torment and terror. Would the bad outweigh the good? How can we live without forgetting life's daily hurts and injustices? Clarence, MN, is a bucolic college town until a fire at the pharmaceutical factory "spills" deletrium (a fictional chemical) into the atmosphere. Suddenly, Clarence's unsuspecting citizens are overcome by a flood of powerful memories. The former theater critic for Minneapolis's City Pages, Ursu is a writer who cares deeply about her characters, and her descriptions of Professor Bennie Singer's haunting flashbacks of his wife's fatal car accident and his tender interactions with his daughter, Sophie, are very moving. Other players include Singer's mother, who must reconcile an unsatisfying marriage and open herself to the possibilities of new romance, while her crush, Calvin, is literally floored by vivid images of war. Lots of pop-culture references to life in middle America lend a comic touch. Recommended for all public libraries. Christine Perkins, Jackson Cty. Lib. Svcs., Medford, OR Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A semi-successful debut tells the odd tale of a town afflicted-after an accident at the local chemical factory-with the burden of complete memory: it will disable its residents for days.

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Product Details

Hachette Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.62(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Ann Patchett
A dazzling event.

Meet the Author

Anne Ursu is the author of Spilling Clarence. She has worked at a major book retailer, as the theater critic for City Pages (Minneapolis), and as an arts writer for the Portland Phoenix (Maine). She lives in Mountain View, California.

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Spilling Clarence 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book takes a good idea and bashes it to the ground. Like that movie, in time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I kept waiting for the storyline to get better but, it never did - this book is a huge downer - if all at once one could remember every event, every emotion ever experienced and not one person in an entire community has anything positive to relive? share? This could bring a town to its knees 'thanks to a local spill' and there is nothing from each life worth reliving full throttle? A very sad depressing read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is too slow to engage the reader. I never got hooked and never came to care about the characters. There are no transitions from one thought to another, so it is really disjointed. I finished because I finish every book I start, but it was not easy or fun.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is written poorly and the entire 270+ pages can be summed up in 1 sentence. A chemical spill makes people remember lots of stuff, they remember sad things, then the chemical effects wear off, they get better and live happily ever after. After 50 pages in I wasn't even close to being hooked, after a total of 150 pages in I wanted to give up but had read so much I kept going, at page 230 the most ridiculous thing happened that made me so made that I skimmed the rest of the 50 pages left. All in all this book is horrible. There is no plot. There is no action. The book moves incredibly slow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading the online reviews, I was so excited to read this book; however, I am about halfway through it and I don't think I'm going to make it through the last half. While I think the author has a beautiful writing style, there is way too much narrative for me. I like a little bit of dialogue in my fiction. The book also skips around a great deal--one minute you're reading about the present, and the very next you're reading about the character's past or dreams. It's not always easy to keep it straight. Sorry, but it's doing nothing for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thats funny how the bad comments are at the top but shen you go down more there a good comments about the book. Lol. One star never read the book never will
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My mom is good friends with Anne Ursu's brother. Its really rude to sat bad stuff about these books on here. They are able to go onto the Barnes and Noble website and check out what comments they have gotten on their books! Imagine if you just wrote a book and it was selling on e readers. And you were really proud of yourself. You look on the website and see a bunch of comments trash talking your book. You would be bummed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ms. Ursu does an amazing job of crafting a story about the after effects on small town inhabitants after a pharmaceutical factory's explosion and subsequent spill. The circumstances which follow are profound and heartbreaking. A beautifully written novel centered among memorable salt-of-the-earth characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. I had to know what was going to happen to Zana and Todd, Bennie and Sophia. Ursu makes you really think about what you may have or be taking for granted. Excellent read. I am a fan!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down, and i didn't want it to end. I paused for a day at the final pages just to make it last. Ursu creates characters of amazing depth and originality. She crafts a place that is at once unique and familiar. It's a completely spellbinding and magical read. You do not want to miss this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up yesterday based on its review in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I haven't put it down since then. Awesome. As its review stated, Anne Ursu does not try to show you just how brilliant and uniquely sensitive she is; instead, her images, insights, and instincts are natural and inviting. If I were the King of the World, all first novelists would have to read Anne Ursu first!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful novel for the first post September 11 holiday season. What can speak to us now in the midst of our continuing trauma and sadness? By offering us a careful blend of human sorrow, resilience, joy, and redemption. Spilling Clarence offers a perspective on what is meaningful in life that is rooted in the tradition of Dicken¿s Christmas Carol and Capra¿s It¿s a Wonderful Life. Displaying a breathtaking grasp of language, character, nuance, a delightful sense of humor, and a unique, modern voice, Ursu delivers a hopeful message about the ascendance of love, caring, and joy in the face of inevitable human sorrow. Spilling Clarence is a great read ¿ booklover¿s book and a gift for the season.
Guest More than 1 year ago
SPILLING CLARENCE is a wonderful story -- a story that comes from an intriguing (and timely) idea and is told in the many voices of the citizens of Clarence, MN. A story about people facing a world they no longer understand, but must embrace because it is the only world they know. But to only speak of the story is to miss the wonderful wit and wisdom of this book. Rarely is a first novelist so lucid with her prose -- slying picking at the weak spots of the human condition, but creating a world with such care and compassion that you can't help but wanting to be a part of Clarence, if only for a short while. I can't say enough how much I enjoyed this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is quirky and moving--a great combination. It is also very funny. This is also somehow a sort of tonic for the dark days we live in, but it's not escapism either.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so funny--sometimes laugh-out-loud, sometimes intelligently understated--but the humor is sustained. The humor never comes off as an ironic defense mechanism of the author; that is, it is never a sort of detached, almost meanspirited, irony that I've seen a number of lesser new writers use. That is the impressive thing about Anne Ursu, she has an amazing wit, but with heart. She is like David Sedaris in this way--as funny as both are, they show love and respect for their subjects.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A spellbinding story about a wonderful cast of characters who, because of a mysterious chemical leakage, are given the 'gift' (or the curse) of remembering everything--the loves we'd all like to remember every second of, and the losses we'd all love to forget. The book examines the way memory can shape a life, and it's written in pitch-perfect prose, with characters that still haunt me. Witty, wise, heartbreaking, brilliant. What a talent!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When an accident at a pharmaceutical plant envelopes the small town of Clarence, Minnesota, in a cloud of brain stimulants,a funny and heartbreaking series of events follow. Three generations of Clarencites cope with near total recall. While it may sound like a pleasant bit of nostalgia, remembering each and every detail of your own past - with the same emotional instensity that you felt at the time - can make the present unbearable. What Ursu has done is create a wholly original and thought-provoking premise that calls into question the reliability of what we think we know to be true and the role that memory plays in shaping our present-day lives. This funny, touching debut is peopled with all-too human characters doing their best to move forward when their own pasts are staring them straight in the eye. Highly recommended.