Cover image for Spilling Clarence
Spilling Clarence
Ursu, Anne.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Theia/Hyperion, [2002]

Physical Description:
280 pages ; 25 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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What if you could suddenly remember everything that ever happened in your life Would it be a blessing -- or a curse

The answer is found in Spilling Clarence, a satisfying, witty, romantic, and tender novel. In the fictional town of Clarence, Minnesota, a breakroom microwave sparks a smoky fire at the pharmaceutical factory and triggers a massive chemical spill. Panic-stricken and paralyzed, the townspeople wait until the all-clear signal to assure them everythings back to normal. Except that it isnt. Over the coming days, the citizens of Clarence fall under the spell of a strange and powerful drug that unlocks their memories. They become trapped by their own reminiscences: of love and death, of war and childhood, of family theyve lost and sins theyve committed.

Beautifully rendered with a light comic touch, this bittersweet first novel is about more than the sum of its beguiling parts. Its about the need to remember, and about the bliss of forgetting. A universe peopled by exquisitely drawn characters, Spilling Clarence is a funny, moving story with a truly original premise that introduces the impressive talents of an exciting new writer.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Clarence is a small town, home to both a college and a factory. A fire at the factory produces a chemical spill, and deletrium is released into the air. None of the experts is sure what effect it will have, but the residents of Clarence are about to find out. Memories--happy, bittersweet, and painful--flood back to them. Professor Bennie Singer is overwhelmed by memories of his dead wife, while his mother is faced with all of her regrets. Susannah Korbert, a young woman unhappily residing with her fiancein Clarence, is hit with memories of her mother, whose mental illness has kept her a distant, almost frightening figure in Susannah's life. As the residents of Clarence relive their pasts, they realize that they need to make important decisions about their futures. The characters are all stuck, paralyzed by pasts that they must leave behind to move on with their lives. With compelling, scarred characters and a cleverly rendered setting, Ursu's debut is both thought-provoking and enjoyable. Kristine Huntley

Publisher's Weekly Review

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

Library Journal Review

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.