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Spilling Clarence Paperback – January 15, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Anne Ursu's gracefully layered first novel, Spilling Clarence, a fire at a psychopharmaceutical plant releases a yellow cloud of psychoactive chemicals into the air of a sleepy college town named Clarence. Disturbing effects begin to show up in the townspeople, especially in the residents--mainly former professors--of the cleverly named Sunny Shadows retirement home. They find themselves remembering events and people they had long forgotten, or revisiting their favorite memories to find that new details have been recovered, a few of which they would rather have kept suppressed. Happiness is only sometimes a side effect of these startling recollections. In some ways, the chemical spill speeds along emotional processes that are already a staple of contemporary fiction: recovered memory, the discovery of unexpected connections, and the confrontation of the past. Some readers may find Ursu's plot too cinematic, but she is never glib or opportunistic. Like a good theorist, she pursues her idea to its logical, often surprising conclusion in the life of each of her characters. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books (January 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786886625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786886623
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,420,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This novel is both emotionally and intellectually significant-a rare find! At the heart of the book is a chemical, deletrium, that escapes into the town of Clarence. People find themselves remembering things they've forgotten, and many of those memories are painful. The questions raised here are fascinating and central to a culture where Prozac in the water supply wouldn't be all that unbelievable. (Just a bit. Just until we can start shopping again.) I was especially impressed with the authority of Anne Ursu's prose-truly astonishing for a first novelist. She can guide us past the memory wars of the last twenty years, and make it look easy (!), without once losing sight of her characters. I've already given this book to two grad school friends. I wish I could rate this ten stars; it's that good.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dianna Setterfield on April 9, 2003
Format: Paperback
The main reason that prompted my buying of this book was the interesting premise. I thought the idea behind this book was something very original and unique, and I was definitely excited about reading it. And while Spilling Clarence did provide me with something out of the ordinary, I believe the novel was more depressing that I anticipated.
Spilling Clarence tells the story about a small town, Clarence, and the chemical leak that changed everything. An explosion at the town's psychopharmaceutical plant has sent mind-altering vapors into the air. At first, authorities weren't actually sure what to make of the incident, but soon they got their answers. These vapors, a chemical called Deletrium, unlocks the brain's hidden and repressed memories, encouraging patients (or in this case, town residents) to remember things they had forgotten. At first it doesn't sound so bad -- who doesn't like a trip down memory lane every once in a while? But soon, most of the town starts to unravel -- not everyone's memories bring smiles and joy.
While the story talks about many of Clarence's citizens, most of the detail is reserved for three main characters: Bennie, a college psychology professor, whose memories bring his deceased wife, Lizzie, back to life; Madeline, Bennie's mother, who resides at the Sunny Shadows retirement home, remembers the life she led as a wife and as a widow; and Susannah, an aide at the retirement home, who has her own troubled past, mostly in the form of a mentally ill mother. All of these characters are portrayed in rich detail, and author Anne Ursu leaves no rock overturned.
Spilling Clarence is an insightful, moving story about memories and the mind's natural process of storing them away.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Laura Ruby on January 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
...so, I come to Amazon to write a review of a charming and funny first novel - a novel that I gobbled up in a single day - and find a sloppy, peevish diatribe from Publishers Weekly, so spiteful it made me wonder if author stole the reviewer's boyfriend back in junior high. Is there a prozac shortage I'm unaware of?
Obviously, I greatly enjoyed this novel. As readable as it is intelligent, SPILLING CLARENCE begins with an intriguing premise and builds into a thought-provoking examination of the nature and power of our memories. Anne Ursu's prose style and concerns are more akin to Don Delillo's WHITE NOISE than Alice Hoffman's work, and she has a sharp wit reminiscent of Lorrie Moore. But it is Ursu's richly drawn characters that delight and surprise (especially Sophie, whom I just adored.) They stayed with me long after I finished reading the book. Highly recommended.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A. Vernick on December 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Just when you think you're the genius who discovered a great new talent, you log onto Amazon and find eight people have already given your discovery rave reviews. Well, I'm proud to join this bandwagon.
Though I finished reading this book last week, I find myself still thinking about the characters. I picture them drinking coffee, thumbing through books and telling jokes that I'd find very funny.
The characters are very compelling, but what I found most unique in Spilling Clarence was the narration. It's funny, hip, and a tiny bit unusual. I felt as though it sat in my lap a few times, in a way that was surprisingly comfortable.
This is one of those books you'll go racing back to each night, anxious to pick up where you left off. I love it when a book I adore is a first novel. There's so much to look forward to.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By thebookhaven.net on January 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A chemical spill at a pharmaceutical factory has a direct effect on the residents of Clarence, Minnesota. The Deletruim gas released in the air enhances the mind, unlocking long-forgotten memories.
"Spilling Clarence follows several Clarence residents as they simultaneously undergo a brief, intense drug-induced walk down memory lane. Their experiences are heartfelt, sometimes tragic, and often funny.
Anne Ursu's novel is an impressive debut. Her characters are complex, yet easy to comprehend. The tone of the book coincides with the rise and fall of the residents' moods, letting readers come along for the Deletruim ride.
The author's generous use of subtle humor adds to this unique story.
It's hard to read "Spilling Clarence" without a smile on your face. It's sweet. It's sad. It's funny. It's good.
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