Title: The Clay Girl
Author: Heather Tucker
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: ECW Press
Date published: September 13, 2016
Page Count: 333
A physical copy of the book was kindly provided by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.
Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls. But Mary and her partner, Nia, offer an unexpected refuge to Ari and her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse. Yet the respite does not last, and Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather, Len, and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.
Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions, testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. Ari spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.
The Clay Girl is a beautiful tour de force about a child sculpted by kindness, cruelty, and the extraordinary power of imagination, and her families ― the one she’s born in to and the one she creates.
Lyrical, and simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming.
While I try not to judge books by their cover, it is undeniable that The Clay Girl’s cover is eye-catching and pretty. When picking up the book in order to get a closer look, one will also notice that the cover is textured to feel like baked, un-glazed clay. I found this to be unique, and quite thoughtful on the part of the publisher.
Despite my fascination with the cover, however, what I want to talk about, and compliment most, is what is within the book itself. When reading the first page, the first thing that struck me was the narrative style. It threw me off a little, in a good way, but then became easier to read, page by page. I, in fact, grew to love the narrative style when I was less than fifty pages in. The language is rich and lyrical, and while I do not normally enjoy first person perspective, I really enjoyed it in this case. And anyway, there is no other way this book would have worked.
The main character, and narrator, Hariet, is eight years old when the story begins, and she is a very lovable, bright, and unique little girl. She is exceptionally skilled at expressing herself with some of the most beautiful combinations of language which I have ever seen, and some of her phrases will remain one of my favourite quotes of all time.
In order to cope with her traumatic family situation, Hariet (later Ari) finds herself accompanied by an imaginary seahorse named Jasper. And with the help of Jaspers, she is able to effectively navigate through certain difficult situations, as well as everyday occurrences. Ari is a very complex and fleshed-out character, and while we learn more about her than the others, due to having a window to her soul, with how forthright she is in with her narration, all of the other characters are just as three-dimensional. All of the characters were memorable, for the good or bad things they are and do, and I will remember them all for a very long time. The Clay Girl‘s narrative manages to display some of the best human qualities alongside the worst, and it is an unforgettable, and moving mesh.
Tucker also successfully describes each of the settings in which the story takes place, and the locations to which I have never been, were just as easy to picture as the ones which I have visited before. Tucker also uses dialogue and phrasing common to the 60s in order to keep the reader immersed in that time period, and therefore within the story. The pacing was perfect, and I did not feel myself becoming bored even while very common, everyday things were being described, simply because of how good the story is, and due to Tucker’s satisfying writing style. Some of the subjects which were addressed in this book, I would have refused to read if they had not been included in this book, in the manner and style in which they were.
This is definitely one of my favourite books of all time, and I will be recommending it to every reader I come across!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Throughout an eclectic career Heather Tucker has gathered stories— from working as a nurse in Ethiopia, Columbia, France, Belgium and Northern Ontario, to her experience as a teacher, bereavement counsellor, public health and psychiatric nurse.
Heather worked extensively developing educational resources until discovering that playing with words was more fun than working with them.
She has won many prose and short-story writing competitions, and her stories have appeared in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in Ajax, Ontario.
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