Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review: Clair de Lune

Our book club read Jetta Carleton's The Moonflower Vine last year and absolutely loved it. I put her only other novel, Clair de Lune, on my reading list right away and finally got to it. It's a short, quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed, although not nearly as much as The Moonflower Vine.

Clair de Lune is a sweet, nostalgic coming-of-age novel, set right before World War II. Allen Liles is a young woman fresh out of graduate school who gets a job teaching English at a junior college in a small town in Missouri. It isn't what she wants for her life, but she's always been the good girl who does what her mother tells her to do. Allen has big dreams; she wants a glamorous life in a big city. She has visions of being a famous writer, attending parties and wearing expensive clothes. But she has a debt to pay first, and at the urging of her mother, she chooses the sensible path.

The novel then chronicles Allen's first year of teaching. She's a bit of a fish out of water among the faculty, being young and enthusiastic. Life is fairly boring and predictable for her until two of her students, George of Toby, become her best friends. By day she's a teacher, but by night she's just a young woman in her early 20s, feeling freedom and fun for the first time. She lives for her nights with George and Toby, ignoring the slight feeling that perhaps she shouldn't be fraternizing with students. She also ignores all the talk of a pending war, preferring instead to believe that life will always be carefree and sweet.

It's a year of growth and self-discovery for Allen. She's emerging from the cocoon of her childhood and college years and discovering that she is really fairly ignorant about much of the world, although she is smarter than she thought in some ways. I found Allen totally easy to relate to. I remember being in that odd age of the early 20s, when I found myself being, well, an adult who still felt like a kid. Like Allen, I wasn't really ready to let go and yet I was terribly ready for the next stage of my life.

The novel was discovered and published years after Jetta Carleton's death, and in many ways, it feels unfinished. I think Carleton wasn't ready for it to be published and had a lot more to say about Allen. But even with the incomplete feeling, I loved it. Carleton is a wonderful writer, and she beautifully captured the time period and the longing of a young woman's heart. The Moonflower Vine is definitely much better, but I really loved this one, too.

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