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When Tito Loved Clara Hardcover – March 8, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Michaud, the head librarian at the New Yorker, writes well at the sentence level, but unconvincing characters and soap-operatic plot twists mar his debut about a resilient Dominican-American woman. Clara Lugo lives with her husband, Thomas, and their son, Guillermo, in the New Jersey suburbs and desperately wants another child, but can't conceive. Thomas, meanwhile, laid off from his job six months earlier, has lost his confidence. Clara's 16-year-old niece, Deysie, who has recently moved in with the Lugos, turns out to be pregnant by Clara's sister's ex-con boyfriend. Then Clara's old high school boyfriend, Tito Moreno, reappears. When Clara and Tito, who has failed to move on after their brief tryst 15 years earlier, try to resolve some unfinished personal business, hurtful revelations promise to change the course of both their lives. Despite Clara's complicated family drama, Tito's unhealthy obsession with Clara, and a subplot with the seedy ex-con, the story fails to garner any emotional weight. Author tour. (Mar.)
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New Yorker librarian Michaud�s first novel displays significant but uneven talent. Its emotional insight and character development are first rate, but its lack of structure and pacing diminish their power. Clara Lugo, a Dominican immigrant who grew up in a troubled home in the upper reaches of Manhattan, has escaped that world for comfort and suburbia. Her already crumbling idyll, though, is further shaken when her pregnant teenage niece is put in her care, a development that adds more strain to Clara�s fraught marriage and more piquancy to her fertility problems. When Tito, a high-school boyfriend with a lasting obsession, disruptively re-enters her life, things seem at a breaking point. Michaud�s quiet account of a foundering marriage and his forays into the mind of an abused child and her adult self are perfectly done. He also sets up some intriguing conflicts and even an accessory murder mystery plotline. Unfortunately, the interest generated by his successes is squandered as the plot circles slowly, the manifold flashbacks stagnating the whole as Michaud�s acuity overwhelms itself. --Meg Kinney
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Top customer reviews
I can't easily forget Tito's overwhelming sense of yearning and loss; or Clara's sharply-developed ambitions that form the crux of her coping mechanisms after some harsh realities; or Deysei's incipient maturity, tinted deeply still by her youthful sweetness and eagerness to be loved; or Yunis' bawdy, narcissistic attempts to outrun her personal limitations; nor Thomas' grasping urge to overcome his insecurities and find common ground with a temptation that may be too far out of reach.
These are partial descriptions of only some of the novel's characters, but these characters fully inhabit their own world -- a world that is rich with cultural tension, fraught with familial idiosyncrasies, yet that is nonetheless imbued with a lively, welcoming, and recognizable sense of place and time.
It's been well over a week since I finished the book, and I have written this little review based solely on my memories of the novel. That's how indelibly the author has managed to substitute ink and imagination for flesh and blood.