An innocent abroad, all but kidnapped by an aunt he never knew he had, experiences his belated coming-of-age through a series of madcap European escapades.
Command of narrative tone has long been a hallmark of the underheralded Clarke’s (An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, 2007, etc.) fiction, and here he sustains a tightrope balance between the matter-of-fact observations of the titular protagonist and the increasingly outlandish adventures he finds himself in. It’s a little late in the game for Calvin to be coming-of-age, but here he is, on the cusp of 50, divorced from a woman who won’t leave him alone, living in his parents’ home, recently orphaned with the death of his mother. She was the bestselling author of an inspirational book on John Calvin, whose aphorisms provide the novel’s thematic underpinnings. Her only son is one of two bloggers for the international pellet-stove industry; his ex-wife is the other. They often communicate with and about each other through their chatty blogs. His life changes irrevocably when a woman he has never seen before introduces herself at his mother’s funeral as the twin sister of the deceased. Without his knowledge or consent, she somehow procures for him a passport and a trans-Atlantic plane ticket, telling him, “It’s never too late to grow up, Calvin.” Then it’s off to the races, as the plot hurtles across Europe through various manners of deceit, duplicity, mutual betrayals, stolen vehicles, stolen identities, odd nicknames with odder backstories, and climactic revelations concerning Calvin, his mother, his aunt, and his destiny. As an oracular voice intones, “In order to see…you must open your eyes,” the eye-opening discoveries of the narrator provide a mind-bending experience for the reader.
Unquestionably the funniest novel ever written about Calvinism.