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Clara Callan: A Novel
by Richard B. Wright

Published: 2009-03-17
Kindle Edition : 432 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 1 of 1 members

In a small town in Canada, Clara Callan reluctantly takes leave of her sister, Nora, who is bound for New York. It's a time when the growing threat of fascism in Europe is a constant worry, and people escape from reality through radio and the movies. Meanwhile, the two sisters -- vastly ...

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Introduction

In a small town in Canada, Clara Callan reluctantly takes leave of her sister, Nora, who is bound for New York. It's a time when the growing threat of fascism in Europe is a constant worry, and people escape from reality through radio and the movies. Meanwhile, the two sisters -- vastly different in personality, yet inextricably linked by a shared past -- try to find their places within the complex web of social expectations for young women in the 1930s.

While Nora embarks on a glamorous career as a radio-soap opera star, Clara, a strong and independent-minded woman, struggles to observe the traditional boundaries of a small and tight-knit community without relinquishing her dreams of love, freedom, and adventure. However, things aren't as simple as they appear -- Nora's letters eventually reveal life in the big city is less exotic than it seems, and the tranquil solitude of Clara's life is shattered by a series of unforeseeable events. These twists of fate require all of Clara's courage and strength, and finally put the seemingly unbreakable bond between the sisters to the test.

Editorial Review

A finely detailed depiction of the Depression era, Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan is told entirely in the letters and journal entries of two adult sisters, Clara and Nora Callan, and their older lesbian friend, Evelyn. The novel, Wright's ninth, made a surprising sweep of Canada's major awards for best novel--the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award--in 2001. Wright has the gift of making the reader care deeply about these characters and their worlds, which include small town Ontario, where Clara is a sensitive schoolteacher, and New York City, where the younger Nora has moved to become a radio soap opera star. Since both sisters are still "on the shelf," their roller-coaster love lives--Nora's in worldly Manhattan and Clara's in the more restrictive atmosphere of small-town spinsterhood--are a primary subject of their letters and Clara's journal.

This is a quiet book, studied and well researched, but thoroughly engaging and readable. Numerous references to period music, political events, and the looming war quite successfully place the reader at both the centre and the periphery of life in the 1930s. Side trips to Italy and to view the Dionne quintuplets feel entirely authentic. With deceptive simplicity, the author creates a world of clear images: "Nora came in from her shuffleboard game with a sweater tied across her shoulders, her hair damp from the rain." Most importantly, Wright has realized characters that come alive on the page--quite a feat considering the self-imposed limitations of this novel's form. --Mark Frutkin, Amazon.ca

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Member Reviews

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  "not my most favorite book"by Carolynr (see profile) 02/06/16

not my most favorite book but now a bad story. set in the 1930's how the sisters' lives progress certainly make for a fair amount of discussion for a book club.

 
  "The life of a small town teacher and her sister are entwined in this surprising and realistic novel."by Frazzle (see profile) 07/17/07

We loved this book and our discussion of the characters in it. We were surprised that such a realistic depiction of the lives of women could be depicted with such clarity by a male author.

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