A man struggles to navigate his life after a stay in a behavioral rehabilitation center in this character-driven novel.
Clarke’s third novel, set years before the events of Vernon Downs (2014), returns the reader to the world of Charlie Martens, a self-described “easy-going” man who will “tend toward violence, if provoked.” After his parents’ deaths, Charlie spent his childhood with various relatives in Denver, Santa Fe, Rapid City, San Diego and, finally, Phoenix, where he emancipated himself. “I am not a good person,” Charlie writes in the first sentence of the entrance essay to rehab that opens the book. As if intent on proving this claim, Charlie relives everything from kissing Erica Ryan on the playground in fifth grade to the more recent and far more egregious sexual aggression and physical abuse that brought him to the Sonoran Rehabilitation Center. The gruesome details of his journal entries and essays force the reader to confront his capacity for cruelty along with him and could easily offend sensitive readers. But some slivers of hope still glimmer in the background. His relationship with Jenny, a Mormon and his high school sweetheart, is a brief ray of pure goodness that, though shattered, has a lasting impact on his obsessive and idealistic views of romance. While Charlie is—undoubtedly—not a good person, his appeal for sympathy and nonjudgment is warranted. As he states in the close of that opening essay: “You have to feel something to understand it.”
Clarke gives us a tortured antihero, a disturbingly self-aware man we might not root for but cannot forget.