Saturday, March 01, 2014

5. Clemmie by John D. MacDonald

[Review written October 7, 2014, date of this post is when I actually read it.]

I can't remember where I picked up Clemmie.  I am choosy with MacDonald paperbacks, because they are easy to come by and his style is so strong that you can overindulge and become sick of it.  I couldn't resist this cover, nor this awesome back jacket blurb:
She was very young. She was dangerous.
She was a girl who lived too close to the edge of violence.
She hunted trouble. She was an exhibitionist, a body-worshipper, a sensualist.
She was without morals, scruples, ethics. She was beautiful. She was CLEMMIE . . .
Ah, those body worshippers!

It's the story of a struggling middle-class, middle-management man whose wife takes the kids away back to England for the summer and leaves him alone in their imperfect house and his imperfect job.  He is really a flawed character, probably the most flawed I've encountered in a John D. MacDonald book.  His characters usually are fairly heroic and altruistic, though sometimes with a weakness.  This guy just seems really weak right from the beginning.  You get a sense, though, that it's not entirely his fault and that the situation he is in does generally kind of suck.  So he meets Clemmie accidently and she sucks her beatnik fangs right into his weakness.

This was a fantastic read. It's not perfect.  It's weighted down by the mores of its time, the antagonist is an idiot and the ending is a bit pat.  But wow it gets really crazy.  It sets up the hero with a lot to lose and then keeps pushing him to lose more and more.  It's the early 60s striving middle class and I've ready so many books about male characters struggling against that stifling environment, but in Clemmie he really just smashes it all to hell and it is a most enjoyable ride.  This is probably the best portrait of a drinking binge that I have ever read.  You almost feel drunk yourself reading it.

There is also lots of great class and generational tension.  Clemmie herself is of course from a super rich family (which contributes to some of the patness of the ending) and the "creative" society she keeps seems like a strange mix of two distinct "others" to the bourgeois of that time: the upper class and the incoming generation.

Though I loved the book and the paperback was gorgeous, I gave it away to some friends who just had a daughter and named her Clementine.  They got quite a kick out of it.  I wonder if she'll ever read it?