Jason Lee Rainey has big shoes to fill. His father was a civil rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. and later died serving in the Vietnam war. Growing up in Hadlee, Mississippi in the 1980s, Jason Lee struggles to overcome his community’s attitudes about race and the scorn he faces as a white boy whose best friend is black.
Nancy Klann-Moren’s The Clock of Life is a striking coming of age story about wanting to change the world and coming to terms with the sheer enormity of the world’s problems. While the novel can get a bit heavy handed with symbolism — the portentous tone of the title, for example, or Jason Lee’s PTSD-suffering war vet uncle coping by carving See/Hear/Speak No Evil monkeys, Klann-Moren refrains from tipping over into sentimentality.
Jason Lee is a compelling character, though I wish his best friend Samson was explored in more detail. Still, Klann-Moren makes the right choice in not making too big a deal of their friendship. While others in their community may think it wrong that a white boy and a black boy are friends, and express that view openly, Jason Lee and Samson at least act like the rightness of their friendship shouldn’t even be in question. Their relationship at least is colour blind, and it is only when other characters comment on it, or threaten to beat them up that we realize the courage it takes for these boys to be friends.
Jason Lee’s uncle is another compelling character. His memories of the Vietnam war, and his fear and anger at certain members of the community serve as a constant reminder that one can’t simply label the past as history and move on. Rather, some things are still very much a problem at the present. Klann-Moren offers us glimpses into history through news clippings and historical documents, thus integrating them really well with the present day story of Jason Lee.
Minor note that while the writing is strong, there are several typos in the book, just enough to irk me enough to mention it. [Note: The author has just informed me that a later edition of the book – after she sent me this copy – has corrected the typos.] Many of the characters are interesting, with Jason Lee and his uncle being the most explored, however I wish the villains had been less stock characters and better fleshed out.
Overall, however, Clock of Life is a compelling narrative. Klann-Moren takes on themes like racism and PTSD, and to her credit, doesn’t flinch at the violence and horror of those topics.
A note as well, that the author has just informed me that Clock of Life is a Finalist in the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Well deserved, in my view.
Thank you to the author for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.