Monday, January 9, 2012

Clara's Story by Doreen Perrine

Book:  Clara’s Story
Author:  Doreen Perrine
Publisher: Bedazzled Ink Publishing

Many years ago, I had a brief sojourn in Paris, during which I became interested in the American expatriate experience. 

I took moonlit strolls along La Seine, studied the reliefs of the Arc de Triomphe, stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower on a starlit night, climbed the stairs of Montmartre’s Rue Foyatier, and listened to an organ concerto at Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.  I spent many of my days wandering the streets of La Rive Gauche, trying to channel the vibes of Picasso, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Matisse, and Sartre.

A little light reading
I spent my evenings studying the collective works of Frederic Bastiat in sidewalk bistros, swilling red wine, and being not-so-politely told to “Arrêter d'essayer de parler français!”

During my stay, I spent one memorable day wandering the vast collection of art at Le Musée du Louvre.  One thing I feel obliged to confess, though, is that I'm a neophyte when it comes to everything related to art and art history.    

I do, however, have a well-used box of 96 Crayola Crayons with a built in sharpener, and a few sketchbooks.

I went to Paris in September, after the French nationals and the hoards of tourists returned to work from their summer vacations.  It was the perfect time to visit, no crowds, no lines, and plenty of time to sit and watch the boats in the fountains.  I particularly remember that special day at The Louvre, and feeling like I was the only person allowed entry.  Imagine being able to stand mere feet from da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa, and staring into her quirky little smile for an undisturbed hour. 

But it wasn’t just The Grande Dame of The Louvre that got my attention that day, I was also able to spend considerable alone time with Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, Prud’hon’s Empress Josephine, Ribera’s The Club-Footed Boy, Rubens’ The Disembarkation of Maria de' Medici at the Port of Marseilles, and Titian’s, Pastoral Concert.

In the immortal words of Joni Mitchell, “Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.”  

In Doreen Perrine’s debut novel, Clara’s Story, twenty-nine year old Claire Doral finds herself weaving her way through a dispassionate life.  She’s working at a tony New York art gallery, trying to maintain balance between her overbearing uptown mother and her guilt-ridden downtown father, and sleepwalking through an unfulfilling romantic relationship.  One day, she is introduced to a flirtatious, free-spirited Italian artist named Isabelle.  Claire is at once drawn to Isabelle’s charming ways, but at the same time feels the need to maintain her distance and discretion.  But after falling to Isabelle’s charms, finds herself unable to return to any of her previous life.

by Raphael
Oh, she tries.  But, she finds herself pursuing another female artist, pushing further and further away from her mother, and drawing closer to her father.  After getting sacked by the Gallery and ending her loveless relationship, she sells her artist’s loft, and heads to Europe to embrace the art and culture.  First London, then Paris, and then Milan.  A side trip to Venice inspires her to make contact with Isabelle, and the two begin a push and pull relationship that threatens to leave both heartbroken.  Within the shadows of Michelangelo and Raphael, is it possible for Claire to break free of the bonds of her past familial burdens and find her own free spirit, and can Isabelle regain that joie de vivre that embodied her life and art and brought Claire back into her life?

As a reviewer, I have the privilege of reading a lot of books by a wide array of talented authors.  Every lesfic novelist has a certain, oh, je ne sais quoi about her writing.  That is to say, a style of narration, dialogue, and ultimately, storytelling.  Doreen Perrine is no exception to this unwritten truism. 

However, I must admit, it took me a while to “get” where she was taking Clara’s Story, and to “get” into the hustle and flow of the characters.

As I began to read this novel, I found myself not really liking Claire Doral, feeling unsympathetic to her struggles, and almost bored with her story.  She wasn’t particularly a nice person, she didn’t treat people particularly well, and I didn’t particularly care about her problems.  I DID find myself almost immediately falling in love with her therapist, Gary, her father, George, and his long-time partner, Lloyd.

This distressed me for quite a while, but I stuck with the book.  I wanted to find out how Claire was going to find her way to Isabelle, and what path they would take.  What happened, though, was the ultimate beauty of Clara’s Story.  At some point, it occurred to me that Ms. Perrine had intentionally written Claire to begin the story more like her mother and end up more like her father.  This character growth was not only central to the romance with Isabelle, but more importantly it was the story for me. 

As Claire begins to open herself up to humor, adventure, and happiness, she becomes interesting, the world around her becomes brighter, and the story becomes lighter and more approachable.  The art takes on color and form, and the supporting cast of characters develops more depth and vitality. 

With any book, I look at the depth of characters, and Ms. Perrine does a remarkable job of transforming her protagonist.  A few characters seem flat; including the mother and Mr. Lacy, and that may very well be from design.  However, a few other characters, like Lloyd and Nonna, become unexpected and delightful co-stars.

Clara's Story begins slowly and builds up into a satisfying conclusion; again I believe the pacing is a product of author intent.  The plot is sound, and Ms. Perrine joyously avoided the use of tired plot devices and trite conflict.  

I will say, that as a reader, I am not particularly enthralled when an author plops a 9/11 scene into an unrelated story when that same scenario could have happened without connection to that historic event.   In this case, Claire could have 'saved' her father from a robbery or some type of accident.

However, after reading a bit about the author, I learned that the book was dedicated to a friend and survivor of that day, so I’m giving it an official pass because in this case, it isn’t a plot device inserted for maximum heart tugging effect.

I’ll freely admit, when I started Clara’s Story, I had more than a few misgivings.  However, Doreen Perrine stayed true to her vision for the novel, and the pieces came together into an interesting and satisfying conclusion.  I’m giving this surprising debut from a talented new author a 4.8 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.


  1. "Many years ago, I had a brief sojourn in Paris... moonlit strolls...studied the reliefs of the Arc de Triomphe, stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower on a starlit night, climbed the stairs of Montmartre’s Rue Foyatier, and listened to an organ concerto at Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. I spent many of my days wandering the streets of La Rive Gauche, trying to channel the vibes of Picasso, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Matisse, and Sartre...."

    What is there not to love about you!! Oh. Nice review, too.

  2. I'm actually reading Clara's Story right now, and I have to say that this review beautifully captures the narrative style of the book. If I hadn't already bought a copy of the novel, I would have sought one out after reading this thoughtful and engaging look at it. I hope others will, too. Thanks, usual.

  3. Bax and Gayle - aw shucks! Thanks you two...

  4. I am very grateful to read this post,thank q!
    Doral Dodge