Thursday, June 20, 2019

Book Review: 'Clifford and Claudia: A Novel' by James Halat

Author James Halat has experience from several locations of living. He was born in New Jersey, lived in New York City, and now lives in Tokyo Japan. To date he has published two books - SYNCOPATED RHYTHM and CLIFFORD AND CLAUDIA.
Few authors can handle same sex stories as well as James as those who have had the pleasure of reading SYNCOPATED RHYTHM will witness. But fine as that story is, it s a novella. Now in a full-length novel he proves that he can interplay gay characters with aplomb and make his story so universally relevant that the reader can simply sit back and enjoy the entertainment. And in his novel there is entertainment aplenty!

An example of his technique of placing italicized asides - a method of reflection that accentuates the flow of the story without disrupting it - James writes (for instance): `People stay in to keep warm. And dry. Feet up in front of the fireplace, hold a cocktail, a Rob Roy or a Vodka Martini, read a book or magazine, or a newspaper. Workaholics attach to their phones, pace back and forth, as small children vye for attention. The neighborhood busybody places a chair by the window and pulls back the curtain just enough... The delivery boy arrives. Newspapers fold up. Handsets return to their cradles. A curtain snaps back into position. Pizza boxes open up, release the sweet aromas of Clifford's most delectable of pizza pies. The golden crusts, the tangy tomatoes, the bubbling cheeses, the simmering of garlics and oreganos. A big tip for the delivery boy. And off into the night he goes.' Captured `ordinary' moments like these are like taking a sip of tea as the reading progresses.

James offers a fine summary of this fascinating story: `Clifford and Claudia is powered by two remarkable characters: a young dreamer and oddball traveler, Charles, whose embarks on a journey that brings him to a cozy pizza shop owned by Clifford and Claudia; and a talkative, cranky old woman called Clara-Belle, who is out to save mankind equipped with a pack of Camels, a glass of scotch, and a mouth that could take the paint off a passing automobile. As their paths become irrevocably entangled, Charles finds himself falling in love with the delightful Mr. Chips, only to have that love brutally ripped from him in the brief moments of a senseless act. He enters a world where dreams are denied, happiness is destroyed, and the only way to escape from this nightmare is to untangle himself from what cannot be untangled. We follow Charles in his heroic and at times bizarre attempts to weather, among other things, a fabricated childhood, improbable snowfalls, a shrinking adversary, and a train ride to end all train rides in his remarkable struggle to reclaim what is rightfully his. And through it all, not once does Charles take his eye off the prize in this savagely funny portrait of a young man's coming of age during his desperate days of life with Clifford and Claudia.' And to add more would be a spoiler.

James Halat, in the two books he has released, make s very impressive center stage stance. His ability to create stories that are refreshingly unexpected places him in line with some of most established authors. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, September 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.