I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.
According to the dust jacket, “Brock Clarke is an award-winning author of seven previous works of fiction, including the bestselling An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. He lives in Maine and he teaches at Bowdoin College.” His latest novel, Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is one peculiar book.
There are characters reported as dead, who are very much alive; strangers who threaten mayhem yet turn out to be guardians; and family members who masquerade as imposters. Added into the mix is a minister who forces Calvinism on the main character, Calvin. I was never sure who and why these characters played this game of chess, and I could do without the constant references to the writings of John Calvin.
Two of the important characters are Calvin’s mother, Nola Bledsoe, and her sister, Beatrice Stark. The siblings have been estranged for quite a number of years, and Calvin only learns of the existence of his aunt when she shows up at the funeral of Nola.
A mention of Calvin’s father is also peculiar. Clarke writes, “My father, on the other hand, was a high school coach—football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring. In the summer he ran clinics for athletes who would be playing their respective sports during the regular school year. His name was Roger Bledsoe. My father left this life, and he is also about to leave this story, so before he does, let me tell you a few things about him. He was seventy-seven years old when he died. He was bald on top and was always neatly dressed: pressed chinos, tucked-in oxford shirts—even his boat shoes were polished. His eyebrows were the only unkempt things about him: they curled and hung over his eyes like awnings. // So, he remembered what he looked like. I also remember his sayings. ‘You bet your sweet bippie,’ he liked to say, and also, when he needed to go to the bathroom, ‘I’m going out for a short beer.’
But mostly he liked to say, ‘This isn’t my first rodeo, you know” (1-2). Calvin and his father seemed to have little interest in Calvinism.
Calvin has a job as a blogger for the “pellet stove industry.” His wife, Dawn, also has the same job. Calvin’s mother refers to Dawn as ‘your scowling wife.’ Calvin told Dawn about the funeral. Brock writes, “‘It was all right,’ I said, and I could picture Dawn scowling. ‘All right’ was according to Dawn, my favorite expression, and it was no coincidence that it was Dawn’s least favorite expression. ‘My aunt Beatrice was there.’ // ‘Since when do you have an aunt?’ // ‘Since she was my mother’s twin.’ // ‘Since when did your mother have a twin?’ // ‘Since birth, I wanted to say. But I knew from long experience that it was useless to argue with Dawn. Not because I couldn’t win, although I couldn’t, but because Dawn didn’t necessarily want to win either; she just didn’t want the argument to end. She wanted it to go on forever” (18-19).
Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? by Brock Clarke is a darkly funny novel. This is another terrific read from the wonderful publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 5 Stars