Virginia Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway buys flowers for her party, as does Michael Cunningham’s Clarissa Vaugn. We follow both through twenty-four of “the hours.”
Connie May Fowler’s Clarissa Burden, a writer afflicted with a profound case of writer’s block, tends her roses on the blisteringly hot summer’s solstice in the southern small town of Hope, Florida, located in the rolling, green hills of north Florida’s plantation belt. Her story will also unfold in a single day.
Clarissa Burden, an attractive 35, shares her beautiful southern plantation home with her 51-year-old husband, Iggy Dupuy. Iggy is an overbearing, ego-instantiated, fraudulent artist who sketches naked co-eds, “models.” He also takes them to lunch and god-knows where else… Iggy and Clarissa are afforded the luxury of this handsome historical property thanks to Clarissa’s sales of her two previous critically acclaimed, best selling novels. Iggy, it seems, like someone to whom much has been given and not enough asked, is resentful. He is also mean and demeaning, controlling and cruel. Further, he has sexually ignored Clarissa for two years ensuring that her wish for children remains impossible.
Clarissa’s accommodation, even deference, to this jerk-of-a-husband originated with her childhood powerlessness under an abusive mother. Instead of taking action against Iggy, Clarissa takes refuge in an elaborate fantasy life she has used as a coping mechanism since her terrible childhood. These fantasies involve deathly accidents on out-of-control riding lawn mowers for Iggy and her own free-fall from the Sears Tower. Although we contemplate Iggy’s accidents with a certain kind of glee, we also reckon Clarissa’s passivity will prevent a homicide or suicide. She also takes guidance in these matters from her “Ovarian Shadow Women” who form an internal Greek Chorus, alternately cheering and chiding Clarissa. Her other imaginary friends include a very fey, chatty Depak Chopra in vividly red-framed glasses and a house fly who is in love with her. In spite of the intervention of these lively and very funny figments Clarissa still has no purchase on any forward movement, in writing, or in life. We wait and wait for the spirit to move her.
At long last the moving spirit(s) appear as the ghosts of the unusual family who built Clarissa’s plantation home. Theirs is a story of love and tragic historic circumstance, resulting in doom. It is their sad, fine story within a story that causes Clarissa’s fog to finally fall away and her mental and emotional shackles to slacken.
We are swept along praising and cursing, laughing and crying, through Fowler’s luminous writing and seamless transitions, as Clarissa’s spirit emerges in unexpected ways against her feelings of failure and destruction coupled with the passionate and profound. We make the important discovery that Clarissa’s fantastical, exuberant, and determined journey can be repeated on any day, in any life, through the simple act of perception and consciousness. The font of richness and bounty from one day of stifling heat and cold marriage– as described in this book– could wake any reader who has been placidly and numbly residing in what turns out to be, this extraordinary life.