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Clark’s second fictional slice of St. Paul history (In the Deep Midwinter, 1997) goes back to 1939—and the most tender account of a sex-killing investigation you’ll ever read. If it weren’t for his size and his limping gait, making him look like an overgrown teddy bear, no one would ever notice Herbert White, an inoffensive clerk at Griggs-Horner whose only pleasures in life are the letters he writes to an indifferent Hollywood starlet; the copious journals he keeps as an attempt to compensate for his flawed memory—he can remember yesterday, and his childhood, but not much in between—and his photography sessions with the women he meets at the Aragon Ballroom. When one of his models, Carla Marie LaBreque (nÇe Charlene Mortenson), is strangled, Homicide Lt. Wesley Horner questions White and even finds some promising evidence against him. But all too soon it’s clear that the lead is a dead end; as the Aragon survivors agree, White couldn’t harm a soul. But then a second Aragon dancer is found murdered, and witnesses place White at the scene. By this time, he can’t remember meeting Wesley before; he certainly can’t remember either killing or not killing Ruby Fahey; and he’s a ready target for a bullying Vice cop who’s eager to euchre him into a confession, sign Wesley’s name as witness, and send him to prison for life. By the time Wesley, whose fragile romance with a teenaged runaway mirrors White’s own stumbling attempts at intimacy, rouses himself on White’s behalf, the story seems headed toward an inescapably melodramatic climax. But because Clark’s true subject isn’t the mystery of the Aragon dancers’ murders (wound up in a brilliantly offhand sentence), but the sovereign power of memory to nurture desires that would otherwise never survive, his closing scenes amount instead to a transfiguration of his decent, tempest-tossed heroes. Despite its florid subject, then: a gently, powerfully moving demonstration of the ways, as White concludes, that “we are but memory enfleshed by love.” (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-19217-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1998


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