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Clara Callan (2001)

by Richard B. Wright

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8862124,178 (3.82)71
Two sisters, small-town Ontario, 1934. Canadian author Richard Wright tells their story, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, with an eye for the commonplace and poignant sense of the larger undercurrents that change people's lives. Letters and journal entries form a portal into the desires and passions of two very different women, underscoring the larger tableau of an era stirring with great events--the Depression, rumblings of another world war, and the infancy of radio and show business entertainment. Love and betrayal, friendship and family, hope and deception are the forces that temper the lives of Clara, the spinster schoolteacher, and her sister Nora, "whose enter life is a performance." Wright, a master of revealing the drama of seemingly unremarkable lives, constructs a powerful, mesmerizing narrative. Clara Callan is a deeply moving portrait of two women and of an age heralding seismic changes that will alter the fabric of their inner lives and the world as they once knew it.… (more)
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English (20)  German (1)  All languages (21)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
Much of this book is epistemological, but so well done that it adds to the flow and personality of the book. Both Clara and Nora are well drawn and believable and even though Clara react quite differently to the situations she finds herself in than I would think normal, we are given enough of her unique character to find the reactions consistent with who she is.

I didn't want to put this down until I reached the end. I was rooting for Clara all the way. Nothing pleases more than characters about whom you really care. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
This book was cruising along at three stars, I didn't think it was that good, but afterword wrapped the story nicely. Not enough likeable characters the trip through the era was fascinating 1930s era New York, Italy and Ontario and even a glimpse of Hollywood. If it weren't for the afterword the novel would be pretty uneven. ( )
  charlie68 | Sep 15, 2020 |
Engaged. Engaged is the word I would describe how I read Clara Callan. I think I read it in four days. Despite its name, Clara Callan is actually about two women, sisters in fact. Clara is the elder, living in their deceased parents house in a small rural town outside Toronto. She is a no-nonsense serious schoolteacher who loves to play the piano, read and write poetry; a perfect candidate for spinsterhood and self righteousness despite the fact she no longer believes in God. Since it is the 1930s and Clara is so mysterious, she is also fodder for constant gossip and worry in her village. Meanwhile younger sister Nora Callan has flown the coop to America and the Big Apple to seek fame and fortune as a radio star. Despite their vasts differences the sisters remain close, sharing letters to keep in touch. Clara's journal rounds out the epistolary tale and fills in the gaps.
Probably my favorite subliminal element to Clara Callan is how Wright weaves current events into to the story. Nora, being in show business, complains of a bratty young man hanging around a pretty brunette. The talented brunette would go on to star in a little movie about a wizard from Oz. Or the radio program designed to sound like a real newscast scaring the bejesus out of everyone. Or the new sensational book, Gone with the Wind. It is very tempting to put together a list of every book Clara reads or every song she mentions.
The novel has a Bridges of Madison County kind of feel to the ending. I was a little disappointed with the tactic. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jan 5, 2018 |
I haven't read a bad Richard B. Wright book yet. They are all EXCELLENT. And CLARA CALLAN is no exception. Easy to see why it won both the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award in Canada.

I was reminded of old classic potboilers I had read forty and fifty years ago - books like MILDRED PIERCE or SO BIG. By this I mean this is simply old-fashioned storytelling, and in the most literary sense. Clara Callan's story is told in the form of letters and her personal journal, and spans the years 1934-38, with an important Afterword tacked on. The title character is a woman who will linger in my imagination for a long time. Clara is a thirty-ish small town school teacher in Ontario in the mid-1930s, on her way to spinsterhood, when a series of unexpected events occur which irrevocably change her humdrum life. I hate to say anything more than this, because it would be so easy to spoil this finely crafted tale. And there is her younger sister, Nora, who goes off to New York City where she becomes a star on a radio soap opera, "The House on Chestnut Street." Meanwhile, against this backdrop, Clara's life on Church Street, back in tiny Whitfield, begins to reflect those of the soap opera folks. I mean, somehow, Wright has managed to craft an utterly human drama that is ... well, it's like a soap opera, and absolutely, grippingly believable, and is simply, as so many blurbs and trailers often say, "compelling human drama." The years between the wars come alive in these pages.

I've already mentioned the MILDRED PIERCE comparison, and, in fact, Clara is, at one point, fascinated by James M. Cain's even more famous book, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. As a school teacher, Clara is a reader, and one who appreciates classical music (she plays the piano too) and fine literature, but she is not above indulging her curiosity in pulp magazines like True Detective. Hence, perhaps her interest in Cain. She also knows poetry, Shakespeare, and other writers of the era. Taylor Caldwell is mentioned peripherally, as a 'new writer' (her first novel, DYNASTY OF DEATH, was a sensation in 1938).

I know I have not done justice to CLARA CALLAN, mostly because I don't wish to give anything away that might spoil the story. But trust me, this is just a wonderful, eminently readable novel. A rare treat for book lovers like me. I loved it.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
1 vote TimBazzett | Apr 18, 2017 |
What we may think of as simpler times weren't really all that simple, at least not to those living in those times. So Canadian writer Richard B. Wright makes clear in this absorbing 2002 novel. Set during the years from 1934 to 1938, Wright's characters wrestle with confusing new technology like party-line telephones, home entertainment delivered via radio, long-distance air transportation and the conversion of coal furnaces to oil. And as for personal relationships, well they were certainly as complex then as now.

Clara Callan is a young school teacher, introverted and unmarried, in an Ontario village a few miles outside of Toronto. Her younger sister, Nora, more beautiful and outgoing than Clara, has just moved to New York City and very quickly become a star on a popular radio soap opera. The entire novel is told through Clara's diary entries during those years and in letters exchanged between the two sisters and with a few other characters.

Clara's quiet life is disrupted when she is raped while walking along some railroad tracks. When she discovers she is pregnant, she enlists Nora's help, without telling her how the pregnancy happened, in getting an abortion in New York. Wright leaves hints that Clara might seek revenge against the man who raped her, as she seeks him out and stalks him, but then she meets a man in a Toronto theater and, for the first time in her life, falls in love. Of course, Frank turns out to be married. And so this bland schoolteacher has another secret she must hide from the nosy people of her village, made all the more difficult when she gets one of those party-line telephones.

How this timid teacher ultimately becomes the bravest, if not the wisest, resident of her village makes fine reading. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Sep 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard B. Wrightprimary authorall editionscalculated
Adler, Joanna P.Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dale, CynthiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dale, JenniferNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Twomey, AnneNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
"And if the worldly forget you,
say to the silent earth; I flow.
To the swift water say: I am."

- Rainer Maria Rilke
The Sonnets to Orpheus
Dedication
For P again, with love and gratitude.
First words
Nora left for New York City today.

Quotations
This homely Englishwoman had triumphed over all our presumptions and was now pursuing a life of romantic adventure, reminding me that things are never as they seem, and that in fact we know very little about the lives of others. (p. 175)
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Disambiguation notice
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Two sisters, small-town Ontario, 1934. Canadian author Richard Wright tells their story, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, with an eye for the commonplace and poignant sense of the larger undercurrents that change people's lives. Letters and journal entries form a portal into the desires and passions of two very different women, underscoring the larger tableau of an era stirring with great events--the Depression, rumblings of another world war, and the infancy of radio and show business entertainment. Love and betrayal, friendship and family, hope and deception are the forces that temper the lives of Clara, the spinster schoolteacher, and her sister Nora, "whose enter life is a performance." Wright, a master of revealing the drama of seemingly unremarkable lives, constructs a powerful, mesmerizing narrative. Clara Callan is a deeply moving portrait of two women and of an age heralding seismic changes that will alter the fabric of their inner lives and the world as they once knew it.

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