CLEMMIE by Bili Morrow Shelburne


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A young woman with no memory of her history or how she got to Still Waters Mental Hospital struggles to uncover the traumas of her past and solve the mystery of who she is.

Shelburne’s novel opens with the central mystery of the title character as she undergoes intensive therapy to discover why she has no memories of her life. Shelburne expertly weaves a complicated narrative through a series of flashbacks; readers are guided through Clemmie’s life as she recovers her missing memories and as she experiences the harsh realities of life in a mental hospital. As a child, Clemmie moves from Chicago to Savannah, Ga., with her mother and new stepfather, Roy. There she meets Daniel, a boy who becomes her best friend despite the fact that she is white and he is black, and they live in the contentious ’60s South. But Clemmie is destined for a life of tragedy, and it may be that the loss of Daniel is a memory that she doesn’t want to remember. Later, Clemmie’s family moves to Hilton Head, S.C., where Clemmie spends her teen years, and tragedy is again ever-present in her life. The book reads as a love letter to the South in many ways, and Shelburne describes the beauty of the distinctive coastal region in wonderful detail. As Clemmie remembers more of her past, drawing ever closer to the mystery of how she arrived at Still Waters, several characters emerge to populate her life. From Mama Rae, the mysterious woman who lives in the woods and practices voodoo, to Addie Jo, a malicious home-wrecker, to Jimmy Castlebrook, a man who may just be the love of Clemmie’s life, every character is rendered with unique details. At times, however, it feels as if characters come and go too frequently, a symptom of the scope of the story. Since the novel spans most of Clemmie’s life, it often moves along at a hurried pace, and moments and characters that should be lingered over are passed by too quickly in favor of advancing the story along. Likewise, emotional moments that should have a significant effect on Clemmie’s life sometimes feel glossed over and not fully explored.

A fluid narrative that weaves through memory and time and an in-depth character study of a woman’s journey to recover herself. 



Pub Date: May 1st, 2012
Page count: 235pp
Publisher: manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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