Spilling Clarence – Anne Ursu – pub. Theia Books
‘Your mind is a lot like your closet. You try to hang up your clothes well and line up your shoes like little soldiers and keep your toys from tipping over, but sometimes you just can’t keep it all organised.’
‘What if you could suddenly remember everything that ever happened to you? Would it be a blessing – or a curse?’ These are questions from blurb on the back of the book. Following a chemical spill at a local factory the inhabitants of Clarence start to remember, not just selectively but in great detail and in a way that they cannot control.
‘… each time the same thing happens: She gets to the end of the phrase, she gets to the “and”, and her mind fills with words (and she read a book, married a man, broke her wrist, stubbed her toe, made a dress, kissed a doll, lost a shoe, had a blue bonnet, had a blue bear, blue beard, had a hot paper rash singing for supper of milk and honey and toast crumbs in the doll forest with brother mother baby boy feeding husband and son), a life of possibility to end the sentence, and out of the cacophany of memory nothing can be heard. Madeline’s head crackles with once upon a times and the matter cannot be resolved.’
For many inhabitants this means the unwelcome re-emergence of past hurts and horrors and this book tells of how their lives are affected and ultimately changed. I particularly liked the phrase: ‘… out of the cacophany of memory nothing can be heard’. One character comments:
‘”This must be what it is to be dying. You close your eyes, the doors in your mind open up, and everything you have ever felt comes flooding into your head.”‘
So often we forget, or choose to forget, our memories and as we get older we have an increasing number to store away, but whilst we complain about our forgetfulness perhaps we should also be thankful that memory is selective.
‘A neuron hits its target or doesn’t. We remember or we don’t. We misremember or we don’t. But what are the causes? What makes the damn thing fire in the first place? Why do we remember what we remember and, most important, why do we forget? And what is the effect? … But now … the whole town is remembering, and there is nothing but loss.’
Spilling Clarence explores issues of memory and reconciliation with the past, showing acceptance and understanding of what has gone before as a key to the future. As the blurb concludes: ‘Beautifully rendered with a light comic touch, Spilling Clarence is a beguiling exploration of our relationship with our histories, the seductive pull of regret, the unreliability of memory and the bliss of forgetting.’