Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Review: Clara Callan

Clara Callan: A Novel Clara Callan: A Novel by Richard B. Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was a few pages into this fine, award-winning Canadian novel, it struck me how much I have always enjoyed epistolary novels. Clara Callan is told entirely in diary entries and letters between two sisters and a few other people in their lives.

The sisters grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada, raised solely by their father after their mother died. After the death of their father, the younger sister, Nora, moves to New York City to become a radio actress. The older sister, Clara, stays in the small, insular town of Whitfield, working as a schoolteacher.

Wright paints strong multidimensional characters in the parts of the two sisters. I am like neither sister, and they are very different from one another, but I found myself admiring and relating to each sister.

Through their trials as single working women in the mid-1930s, they realize that they have more in common than they first thought. Each sister is strong and independent in her own way, even though that strength and independence is not valued by those around them (or by the sisters themselves).

Nora's friend Evelyn is a wonderful spunky character and her role adds depth to the story. With one exception (Clara's obsession with Charlie, which does not seem true to life to me, given her experience), I believe that Wright did an excellent job portraying the intimate lives of these women and their experiences in a Canadian small town and depression-era New York City.

I didn't want the novel to end!

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