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Spilling Clarence
Anne Ursu
Adult Fiction URSU

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From 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. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (Jan. 2) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From 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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters Bernie Singer
Male
Widower
Professor

Madeline
Female
Widow
Bernie's mother; suffering writer's block.
Writer

Susannah Korbet
Female
Retirement home employee



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