Sunday, March 25, 2012
Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream
Before she shuffles off this mortal coil, Clementine has more than a few things to take care of, like traveling to Mexico to buy the tranquilizer to do the deed with the unexpected company of her ex-husband, tracking down her deadbeat dad and finding out the truth of her childhood, and finding a home for the one who's stood with her or at least been stuck with her through all the highest highs and the lowest lows: her prickly cat, Chuckles. As she more or less cheerfully prepares for her imminent passing, Clementine finds that her life has many surprises yet to be revealed, and readers discover that her reasons for making the choice to end her life are much more than meet the eye.
I told her all the little things I could remember, which weren't nearly enough. Thirty years was a long time for memories to fade, until what you had were the memories of memories. They weren't always reliable. It was like a game of telephone you played with yourself.
One might think that a book about a severely emotionally unstable woman setting her affairs straight while counting down the last days of her life might be kind of a downer, but I found Ream's novel to be a weirdly delightful debut. If you've got even the slightest taste for black humor, you might well find yourself chuckling as Clementine practices injecting a chicken in preparation for her final day and tries on coffins for size. Laughter ensues even as Clementine takes on the depressing task of relocating her feline companion, Chuckles, who is almost as hard to handle as Clementine herself. Really, aside from her, Chuckles is the next most well-drawn character in the book, and if you know any cats with an excess of personality, you'll definitely get a kick out of Chuckles.
For example, when he steals the dead chicken Clementine is about to use to practice giving injections:
Ears flat to his overbred, smooshed-in head, Chuckles dragged the corpse, which was at least as big as he was, backward across the counter. Like Harrison Ford facing a leap from the top of a dam in The Fugitive, Chuckles threw himself and the bird over the side. It was a blur of cold, dead meat and fur, and it landed with a thud on the polished concrete floor.
Though the situation combined with Clementine's wry sense of humor make for some good laughs, Losing Clementine surely isn't all about getting cheap chuckles at an unsual situation's expense. Ream takes her time fleshing out Clementine's character, and while Clementine certainly isn't a totally lovable sort, Ream puts readers into Clementine's shoes and helps them to understand her. She's frustrating and selfish and manic and sad, but she's also creative, impulsive, and passionate in a way that will make you root for her as she peels off the layers of her life, discovers some very unexpected things, and has to decide whether the new life she's discovered on the doorstep of her death is worth living. When all is said and done, Losing Clementine is an odd twist on an old question, "What would you do if you knew you only had so long to live?" where living might just be a viable option after all.
Thanks to the publisher (William Morrow Paperbacks) for providing me with a copy for review!