How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly – Connie May Fowler

Posted 21 March, 2010 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 17 Comments

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Title: How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly
Author: Connie May Fowler
Published: 2010 Pages: 276
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 4/5

Clarissa Burden, a writer in her thirties and married to a strange and mildly abusive South African man Iggy, lives as a bystander in her own life. She allows people to walk all over her, including the gorgeous women Iggy brings to the house to parade around nude while he photographs them (for art, of course), and she suffers from a terrible bout of writer’s block. Set during one hot summer day in the northern Florida town of Hope, Clarissa , through a series of unpredictable circumstances, takes a hard look at her life and finally learns how to fly.

At first How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly is a little strange. Written in a kind of stream-of-consciousness, the writing can be a little choppy and abrupt (or it could have been my 10 page at a time reading) but as the pieces of the story come together it was difficult not to fall in love with Clarissa and cheer her on with every self-discovery she made. This is my second Fowler novel (the other Before Women had Wings), and Fowler has a keen sense of characterisation. Clarissa is a woman that many can relate to–unsure of herself, unaware of the small abuses she puts up with, lost in her own self.

“For the last fourteen years, she had lived with an ordinary face: no underbite, no overbite, no buckteeth, nothing to prevent her from operating in the world as if she had every right to be treated with the same respect as any other person. On that hot solstice day–one that had already proven to be extraordinary for Clarissa–she gazed into Olga Villada’s unblemished mirror and realized that the person she was in her head was not the person whose reflection stared back at her” (177).

As I got further into the story I loved watching Clarissa discover how she truly was the beauty she saw staring back at her in the mirror and how she determined that despite the cruel words that came out of her husband’s mouth she did have worth.

I’d recommend this one to those who like character-driven novels, but also because there is so much that happens within the one day (or so) those who like more plot-driven novels would enjoy this one as well. Again, stylistically this one did take some getting used to and the lack of chapter breaks my own “here and there” reading a little difficult. The stream-of-consciousness can be distracting but I think it also helped portray how conflicted Clarissa was. In many ways this book actually reminded me of Mrs. Dalloway and as I was reading I wondered if Woolf might have been an influence on Fowler. In the end, though, I think you’ll find yourself applauding Clarissa and eager to see her learn to fly.

Big thanks to Connie May Fowler for sending me this book! How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly is available April 2, 2010.

17 Responses to “How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly – Connie May Fowler”

  1. Sounds very intriguing to me! I’ll have to keep a look out for this book! Thanks for the review, Trish! (Miss ya!) :)

  2. Intriguing sounding book! It does sound like perhaps Fowler was influenced by Woolf … the choice of the main character’s name would definitely suggest that as well as the stream-of-conscientiousness type of narrative.

    I love the cover, too!

  3. Interesting that you say it reminded you of Mrs. Dalloway – since they have the same name and all. If she WAS influenced by Woolf, it makes you wonder if she named Clarissa like that on purpose.

    Huh…I always wonder about symbolic-naming choices like “Burden.”

  4. I think I would love to give this one a try! Sounds like a great book!

    I seriously find it sad, that women put up with so much in there short lives… poor things.

  5. *Melody – I hope you find it worthwhile. It’s not a very long book. And miss you, too, Melody!

    *Melissa – I read this book about a month ago and so when I was writing up my review I didn’t make the connection between the names Clarissa. How silly is that! :P But definitely something to think about!

    *Amanda – See above about the name Clarissa. Can’t believe I didn’t catch that! But I do think that the name “Burden” also has a lot of weight. It’s an interesting book when you start looking deep into it.

    *Veens – It IS sad that women put up with so much but I think it’s all too easy for people to make excuses for other people or place the blame back on themselves. PS–cute avatar little mommy to be. :)

    *Bermuda – Do you have this one already? It took a bit for me to get into it but Fowler does a great job of drawing Clarissa. Very interesting book–hope you like!

  6. Trish: You need to read Connie May Fowler’s memoir When Katie Wakes. I promise you that you will love it. I can’t wait to read her new one…it sounds like it may be loosely based on her memoir. :)
    Have a great week!

  7. I tend to struggle with stream of consciousness writing, but I do love character-driven novels, so I’ll have to give this one a try! Thanks for the review.

  8. Firstly can I say how lovely it is to see you back on here blogging. You have been missed and I hope you enjoyed your break.

    I haven’t heard of Fowler, but I will definitely look this author up as the book sounds brilliant.

  9. You don’t know excited I was to see this review. It has been awhile since we heard from you ;) I hope you’ve been well and that we will continue to see you around. I’m joining both of your challenges BTW but I haven’t posted about them yet. I’m a bit behind.

  10. *Missy B – Wow–I had no idea Fowler had a memoir but I’ll definitely need to check it out. Since this book takes place in Florida and is about a writer, I wondered how much of Clarissa was part of Connie May.

    *Trisha – And I don’t even know if stream-of-consciousness is the right term to describe this one but it did feel a little jumpy at the beginning. Very internal, though, which is why it’s such a great character-driven book.

    *Vivienne – I sent you a quick email–hope you don’t mind. And this was a good one if you can get your hands on it!

    *Rae – LOL–I hope you don’t love me any less when you see my crazy bookshelves in a few weeks. Eeee! Can’t wait to see you!

    *Samantha – Sent you an email. :) And glad you’ll be joining the challenges!!!