Early praise for Clara at the Edge

     Clara at the Edge is a weird and engaging story of a widow, some wasps, and a traumatic past, a story that explores the importance of human connection.

Seventy-three-year-old widow Clara Breckenridge takes up her home, which is scheduled for demolition, to tow it to Jackpot, Nevada.  Along for the ride are her estranged adult son, Frank, and a magic swarm of wasps.  Those wasps once defended Clara from her abusive father, and they have been her protectors ever since.

During her unique journey, Clara must face her deepest fears and unlock her internal secrets.  She reluctantly attempts to reconnect with her family, find a path to happiness, and satisfy her magic protectors before they fade forever.

Clara is a fascinating, feisty character whose magical wasps seem to function as a subconscious outlet. Now at the end of her life, Clara has spent forty years alone; her wasps drive her to unshackle herself from this self-imposed isolation.  When she is confronted by violent youths attacking her and her home, Clara puts her own safety aside in the hopes of preventing a dark future.

The writing is haunting and lyrical, and frequently ripples with humor and heart.  Clara’s is not the only lens through which events are seen; the perspectives of her son, the locals in Jackpot, and a potential love interest also play in.  Subtly shifting points of view give the narrative a dreamlike feel, but they also help to anchor its otherworldly aspects.  For example, while the purple wasps at first seem like hallucinations or signs of a fractured mind, it becomes evident that most of the people around Clara also notice their strange behaviors and colorations.  It is clear that there is an outside force pushing Clara.

Enchantingly languid pacing serves as a counterpoint to the story’s ever-present countdown: even if the truth about the wasps and Clara’s fate isn’t clear at first, there’s less than a month to root it out.  Clara truly is as the edge of something greater than herself.  As she finds herself surrounded by new friends, estranged family, and the ghosts of those she lost, Clara’s story unspools in a compelling and engaging way.—Foreword Reviews

In her seven decades on earth, Clara Breckenridge has survived the untimely loss of her husband, the tragic death of her daughter just months later, and now, in her waning years, a ruthless displacement from her home by unfazed city developers.  But Clara is unshakable.  She loads her house–its aging structure in all its glory–onto a flatbed truck and moves it closer to her son, Frank, in Nevada.  Throughout his adulthood, Frank and Clara have maintained a complicated estrangement.  Clara, feeling daunted by the task of laying straight her failures as a mother, is empowered by the magically real colony of wasps that has followed and protected her since adolescence.  Regardless of whether or not the buzzing morsels of wisdom exist outside her head, Clara is determined to pull her son (and herself) back into the magic circle of love that has been empty since his father and sister passed.  In alternating, omniscient, wasp-on-the-wall perspectives, Fox’s writing says yes to every surreal and absurd possibility life offers.”BOOKLIST

The story of Clara Breckenridge is the story of a woman who uproots her whole life, moving her house to Jackpot, Nevada, in an effort to reunite with an emotionally distant son, Frank, and to come to terms with the loss of her husband and daughter, after years of cordoning it off in her brain. This is not a story for those who don’t care to feel. Clara, seventy-three and struggling with deep losses, has just uprooted her house to save it from a demolition crew, and enlisted the help of her estranged son Frank to drive the house to Jackpot, and settle down. She makes this journey with her spirit guide, a lavender-colored wasp, and two jerky jars filled with the rest of her wasps, which push her to new emotional revelations, struggles, and adventures.
With a roving point of view, Fox gives us insight into all the characters’ lives, showing us truly how each decision, caused by the characters’ own thoughts and fears, can lead to unimaginable consequences. Clara, the woman with “the floating house that came down from the sky,” touches the lives of strangers along the way, making emotional connections that alter the course of one another’s lives. Each thought, word, action, and difficulty holds emotional weight. In one scene, Frank, Clara’s estranged son, works on carving a burl into something beautiful, and even this handiwork holds strong emotional real estate on the page: “He’s never worked on a burl before. Curdled deformed wood. Finally a rough form emerges—a gnarled pair of eyes, branching heavy eyebrows—something like the top half of a bulging skull.” This action transforms the world of Clara at the Edge, so that every moment, every thought holds untold treasures to discover. It is difficult to identify simply one strong point of the writing style, but this careful plotting of each moment is certainly one of the most exciting, as every moment of the narrative feels intentional.
The writing is just like Clara. Unpredictable and powerful. Reading this novel is like walking through Clara’s house, new discoveries in the motifs peppered about the chapters, as she reveals more about her history in bursts. The story unfurls in small acts, as the rooms Clara has built in her mind to separate her past terrors and sorrow swing open with the help of her purple wasps, and she is forced to meet the emotional territory she had sectioned off all her life:
Each thing Clara experiences builds its own little room in her brain and wires itself into memory, the central screening room. Some rooms are more walled off than others. A few are fortresses. The day of Samantha’s death, for instance, is so upsetting that she can’t fully revisits it. It’s locked up tight, and that’s her problem. It’s getting moldy and infected.
This direct, honest style can lead to some overstatements, or repetition that may have intended to drive the point home, but just becomes exacting on the reader. The character’s struggles are, in essence, the same struggle. While this gives a unifying theme to the narrative, it runs the risk of giving the reader too many similar revelations. When everyone’s problems can be reduced to simply not getting enough love when they were younger, it’s as if we have watched the same episode resolve itself three or four times. The direct language is one of the many strong suits of the novel, yet it runs the danger of unravelling the characters.
Overstated characters are not necessarily all bad, as when we look at the sheer amount of characters, it is impossible to give the page space to each character that their personal trauma deserves. The story is not necessarily only about personal issues, but also about the way the characters collide, often in more and more catastrophic ways. However, it is impossible to speak for any length on this book and not mention the care, and detail, Fox takes with the elements of surreal. The wasps are characters in themselves, often the most interesting thing in the familiar landscape. From the first moment the wasps are mentioned, it’s impossible to resist their fascinating influence. They come in to save Clara “when she’s old enough to know her father can do something far worse than just beat on her,” and they stay with her for her life, the purple wasp working against its lifespan to try and bring Clara an emotional resolution with her struggles.
This novel is a beautiful story of how someone can still find emotional freedom after years of repressing everything in their head, how grief doesn’t have a timeline, and how each person finds their way through life down different paths. We aren’t all that different in the end, and this novel is an exploration of how the smallest actions by one person can affect many lives.

Heavy Feather Review

Clara’s blurbs

“Who knew wasps could be protectors, champions, and the best friends a girl ever had?  Maryl Jo  Fox has written a wild, enchanting, constantly surprising story of one woman’s resilience, courage, and    redemption through what may be a kind of magical insanity.  Clara At the Edge kept me buzzing on  every page.”

___ Diana Wagman, author of Life #6, The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets

“This dazzling combination of riotous imagination with bottomless compassion makes this such a stellar  debut. Readers will surely remember Clara and her crew— they are utterly distinct, and beautifully  realized.”

____  Aimee Bender, author of The Color Master,  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and four others.

“We will follow Clara anywhere.”

Walter Kirn has written 8 books, most recently Up in the Air and Blood Will Out.

+ + + +

Critical comment on Maryl Jo Fox’s short fiction

. . . Maryl Jo Fox’s “Marker” brings us a post-apocalyptic tale regarding an artist’s capture and near-escapes from the vain dictator who rules her world.  As the warlord stages twisted beauty pageants and forces refugee artists to paint her image, the narrator can do nothing but flee uselessly towards the borders of her failed society.  Cruel and evocative, “Marker” shouldn’t be missed by anyone interested in the quickly emerging slipstream genre.

Matt Bell, NewPages.com

Re Bat City Review, Number 2, 2006, Biannual

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