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CLAY by Melissa Harrison

CLAY

By Melissa Harrison

Pub Date: Feb. 19th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-60819-978-5
Publisher: Bloomsbury

In a small, inner-city park in England, cycles of life are marked by the turning seasons and the interactions of a handful of characters—a neglected boy, a lonely immigrant, an elderly widow.

“We are the clay that grew tall,” says one of the wise elders in this British writer's debut, which sets the loosening of our bonds with the natural world alongside fascinated observation of its continuity in the gaps and forgotten corners of urban life. Connections to animals and plants inspire all the principal characters, including Jozef, a Polish immigrant whose love of the rural existence he lost is transferred to the dog he rescues and the 9-year-old boy, TC, he befriends. Underfed and underloved, TC avoids school, finding comfort tracking wildlife in a blissful lost garden. Meanwhile, Sophia, in her apartment by the park, relishes the trees and plants, a passion she tries to share with her granddaughter. Harrison is at her best noting the minute details of weather, growth and decay, evocative of ancient rhythms. Less compelling are her formulaic characters and the limited plot which moves little and late.

Juxtaposing often-overlooked everyday natural beauty and man-made ugliness makes for some lovely, laudable prose, but there’s not enough meat here for a full-length novel.