Friday, December 2, 2016

Clark, by Brendan Connell

Snuggly Books, 2016
355 pp

paperback - my copy from Snuggly Books, so major thank yous, hugs, etc.,  I send to Anna for keeping me posted about what's new and upcoming.

"But great art is like this. It sleeps until people remember it again. Until wise men see that not only the beautiful is beautiful and that sublime things are done in relative obscurity, simply because this is the will and the play of the universe and people in all parts and occupations try all they can to be something other and distract themselves from nature..."

I just love reading Brendan Connell's books, which I'd say are tough to classify under any sort of mainstream pigeonholing system. His latest, Clark,  is a mix of funny, witty, strange and disturbing; put together with his rather unique writing style, the book appeals to my love of the offbeat.  Who else could possibly write a novel about a guy from Paraguay who finds himself taken over by a "legendary spirit" and goes on to become a sought-after actor in, as the back cover notes, "sword and sandal epics, spaghetti westerns and gialli" and pull it off so well?

I first realized that Clark and I were destined for each other when I started laughing out loud not too far into the novel.  Eric Clark, "one of the best actors of his generation," started life as José Fernando del Torres.  His dad sold transistor radios in a small shop in Asunción, Paraguay, mom was "an expert at cooking puchero and river fish," who liked to remind him that his grandfather was eaten by caimans. As a boy Clark was into radio dramas, most especially Aventuras de Tiburcio Vasquez, a "Californio bandit" whom grown-up Clark would "later claim himself to be a reincarnation of."

-- See what I mean by offbeat? This warped craziness has my name written all over it. --

He was a born actor. As a child, little José's mom enrolled him a small little theater troupe, which put on plays in which he played Herod, a "Bad Soul," and Satan.  He was fifteen during the Paraguayan Civil War in 1947, sympathizing with the rebels.  After it was all over, "revolution was still firmly planted in the consciousness of the young," and our young friend started reading Marx and Max Stirner just before his dad sent him to America to get an education. Then in 1955, his life changed when after a night watching a double feature of The Treasure of Bengal and Khyber Patrol he was visited by a man he recognizes  who was holding "something in his hand" which he pressed into José's chest -- talent. From that day he realized that
"He had something inside himself that he needed to express, to let cry out -- so many voices, vipers and it was as if there were suddenly vast spaces open before him, a previously unfelt liberty and the characters around him, the people in the street, seemed to be laid bare, the mechanisms that made them who they were -- the strange psychosis that each individual carried within them .."
leading him to join the Actors' Studio and to go on to make a number of films. But Clark is a person who has a destiny to fulfill... and with that, I will say no more.  I know I say this to the point where it's becoming cliché even to me, but Clark is a novel a person really has to experience on his/her own without someone giving away the entire show.

The book, as I said, mixes humor, satire, history, and beautiful little gems of wisdom, and I love the central focus on cinema and especially acting as a vehicle through which the author makes some really excellent, spot-on observations, which again, I will leave for others to discover.  Word to the wise: some time back I read a post by someone reading House of Leaves in which this person had decided to forego the footnotes, which made me sort of inner scream/cringe/eyeroll since Danielewski didn't just throw those in to be clever or pretentious.I mean, come on --   they're part of the text of that excellent novel and are there for a reason. I mention this because Clark has a lot of footnotes which need to be treated as text so do NOT skip them. Seriously -- why would you only read part of a book?  Another thing -- Connell is a master of mixing things up textually and stylistically, so if you're looking for straight narrative, forget it.  There is nothing average or mainstream going on here, and quite frankly, for me that's a definite plus.

Some day soon, a real reviewer is going to come along and put everything in perspective about this novel.  That's not me -- I'm a reader, not a writer, and I've never pretended otherwise.  At the same time,  I know when I've found something refreshingly unique that ticks a lot of my inner boxes,  and this book is definitely it.  Why settle for same old same old when you can lose yourself in something this good?


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    1. My absolute pleasure. The book is so good.


Say what you will, but do it in a nice way.