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Book review: The Clock of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren

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The Clock of Life
Coming-of-age/Historical Fiction
(November 2012)
366 pages, $13.30/$5.49
Paperback/eBook

THE CLOCK OF LIFE is the debut novel of writer and artist Nancy Klann-Moren. A true coming-of-age novel or bildungsroman, the book details the physical, intellectual and moral development of a boy named Jason Lee Rainey in Hadlee, Mississippi during the 70s and 80s. In typical fashion, the book provides the obligatory firsts you might expect to read in an initiation or development novel – the first school experience, first true friend, first love interest, first car, first alcoholic drink, first death of someone close, etc.

But there’s one big difference.

There’s nothing typical about this boy, this town, his family, his friend or his story.

That’s because Hadlee, a tiny nothing of a town, “a little flea turd on the map,” is trapped in the past, steeped in tradition and clinging to old-fashioned “Southern” attitudes that will challenge Jason Lee’s development every step of the way.

To complicate matters even more, Jason Lee’s father, J.L. Rainey, a war hero -- the only son of Hadlee since WW II who was killed fighting for his country – is also considered an utter disgrace to some of the town’s white residents for his involvement on the wrong side of the civil rights movement before the war.

If that’s not enough, Jason Lee’s best friend Samson is a precocious and enterprising boy with a knack for finding trouble. Oh yeah, and he’s black and hated (and bullied) by twin brothers Culver and Eugene Chubb, two white local yokels who quickly become and remain a tireless source of trouble and conflict for Samson and Jason Lee throughout their young lives.

Jason Lee also happens to grow up with another troubled set of twins: his mother, Cassie, and her brother, Melvin, AKA Uncle Mooks, a wounded war veteran (and a major scene-stealer; one of the most interesting characters in the book). Cassie, after years of being a strong and stable single mother and caregiver for her brother, is starting to show some cracks in her armor just as Jason Lee begins uncovering stories and secrets about the father, a larger-than-life character, he never knew, and whose shoes he feels he may never be able to fill.

For me, this was a powerful revelation that Klann-Moren handled with subtlety and skill. The idea that the son of a heroic figure like J.L. Rainey would ever struggle with feelings of inadequacy and doubt was absolutely heart breaking to me, and I honestly didn’t see this coming. It’s this struggle Jason Lee faces as he learns about his father’s life and questions how to become his father’s son that adds a layer of complexity making this coming-of-age story anything but typical.

What stands out the most for me about The Clock of Life is Klann-Moren’s quiet, elegant prose. Authentic and sparse, the writing seems to disappear the more you read – which is odd for a first-person story – until you’re left listening to Jason Lee telling his tale in his own words. There are far too many books with Southern narrators whose voices, like an after school special, are so clichéd and stereotypical that it’s embarrassing to read. That’s not the case here. Klann-Moren clearly knows these characters, their culture, their language and it shows in the honesty of her writing. Some parts of the story might seem predictable because of the nature of the story, but there are plenty of surprises and memorable moments. Besides, it’s not the events of the story that matter as much as how each of her characters react and respond. And that’s where this novel succeeds.

Bottom line: An ideal novel for a book club, The Clock of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren is a strong and thoughtful exploration of a truly American experience.

About the author
While traveling for her work as an advertising and marketing executive, Nancy Klann-Moren began writing short fiction for fun. She soon started taking writing classes and attending writer’s conferences and workshops. The goal was to create unique stories told in a distinctive voice. Her debut novel, The Clock of Life, has won several awards, including: Finalist, 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards; Finalist, Readers’ Favorite Book Award Contest; Semi Finalist, The Kindle Book Review 2013 Best Indie Book Awards; Honorable Mention, San Francisco Book Festival 2013. Learn more about Nancy at her website: nancyklann-moren.com.

Frank Mundo is the author of The Brubury Tales, Gary, the Four-Eyed Fairy and Other Stories and Different: a novella. Don't forget to subscribe to and follow Frank Mundo on Twitter @frankemundo and @LABooksExaminer for the latest updates to LA Books Examiner.

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