What We Won't Do
Brock Clarke
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What We Won't Do

Brock Clarke
Sarabande Books
165 pages
February 2002
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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This author's writings have been noted here before and then, just as now, he fails to do little less than mesmerize with the percipience of his multi-demensional language. He unravels the human condition, de-mystifies the tenebrous emotions that make up love and loss and happiness, then drapes his characters in so many layers that you grow anxious in peeling away the barriers of each page in a frenzied and fascinating search to discover the beating essence at the person hiding within.

Typically, what you'll find are some pretty terrible people - self-absorbed, selfish, and unscrupled. And we love every ruthless wrinkle about them.

All the short stories here are incandescent in construction, glowing with the wondrous prose that could only flow from the pen of a true master of the form. Clarke, an assistant professor of English and Creative Writing, is the example that destroys the cliche: "Those who can't write, teach it."

There is one little ten-page miracle called "Plowing the Secondaries" that is so riveting in its depiction of the soiled souls in us all that, after reading it, you are forced to reassure yourself that you're normal. And so you silently chant, "I am not a sicko, I am not a sicko," because the tale is depraved, perverse, and something that would even make E.A. Poe blush. Two brothers are plowing snow - the secondaries, the residual snowfall the morning following a storm - and one brother hits a woman. This "human being" is killed - though we, the readers, aren't entirely certain she has expired - but the oblivious sibling drives on, unaware of what he's done. The second brother sees the collision and remains behind.

He engages in a conversation, a monologue, with the woman - Clarke has purposely not given names to these participants. In so doing, he renders a horrible situation even more inhumane because we're forced to remain neutral - we can't comfort ourselves by at least having knowledge of the victim's identity.

Secrets are revealed and love professed, a man's life spilled out over the prone body of a dead woman. It is an extraordinary story, antiseptic in its telling. The first brother, the killer, we know, will never suffer from remorse, and the remaining brother will not try and save this innominate individual. The kill zone is clean, sterilized; there is no blood and the white snow makes for a pristine - virginal - setting.

A brief conversation with the author revealed that this story poured out of him in 20 minutes and that, in his mind, the woman is dead (when you read it, you'll understand how she may not be). The truth is, 20 years of thinking about writing a story like this, about this subject, would reap nothing - you'd never find it.

But Brock Clarke did find it, and he told it. And now you must read it - if for no other reason than to prove to yourself that you're not the most twisted freak on two legs. The author is - the most warped and wickedly original novelist to write one of the greatest love stories ever, an endearing exchange between a creep and a corpse.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Steven Rosen, 2005

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