Publication Date: November 12, 2012
The Clock of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren is a coming-of-age story that takes place in the 1970s and 1980s. Jason Lee Rainey’s father was a hero. The senior Rainey was a man who strongly believed in the Civil Rights movement and fought in Vietnam. He died when young Jason Lee was only eight months old. Living in Hadlee, Mississippi with his mother and uncle, Jason Lee must decide despite the anti-black sentiment that lingers if he will pursue a friendship with Samson Johnson. When he meets him at the school the first day, Samson bears the taunts and beatings from the other white children. Over time, Jason Lee learns more about his father, Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement and also that sometimes you have to work to make your world a better place.
The author sent me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
The Clock of Life is a coming-of-age story the takes place in the Deep South. Written in regional dialect, it follows young Jason Lee from his first day of school to the point where he is not sure if he will or will not follow his father’s path. Jason’s mother virtually throws him to the wolves at school and two little boys who feel he shouldn’t mix with the black students beat him up. On the same day, he learns something shocking about his never mentioned father. The Clock Of Life is a heartfelt and emotionally rich read. Jason Lee is looking for himself and his purpose in life while trying to stay true to his heritage. Jason Lee’s Uncle Mooks is a Vietnam vet who came back from the war severely damaged. I am closely related to a Vietnam vet who tried many times to kill himself and eventually succeeded. When he was drunk his reflections were remarkably true to Uncle Mooks’s spells. Uncle Mooks did things that may not sound right to our modern ear but is very authentic to the Vietnam experience.
While the author deals with a number of timely issues — racism, Vietnam, pill addiction — she addresses them from the perspective of Jason Lee looking to understand his place in the world. While reading, I did wonder about the pill addiction storyline, as it really seemed to come from nowhere and then not go anywhere. J.L. has been gone for 15 years and Cassie wants to move on but hasn’t dealt with deep-seated feelings. That aspect of character development seemed somewhat self-indulgent and not so important to the progression of the story. Jason Lee’s relationship with his mother is important. They are a team, so when a third party comes in, he’s bound to be jealous. There was maybe as much meat in following that storyline as one that has her pining for a dead saint.
The Clock of Life is overall a beautifully written novel. Children today cannot imagine this sort of situation. At the start of the novel, Samson tells Jason Lee not to tell the teacher because she wouldn’t do anything. Compared to the teachers of the 1970s that would not help, today’s teachers would make the national news and rightfully so for this kind of behavior. Children should be protected. While set in a modern age, the story brings visions of the southern fiction of Fannie Flagg and, more recently, Melissa Foster. There is a very authentic feeling to the story, and it will break the heart of the reader. Jason Lee makes some massive mistakes in his journey. Hadlee is a town stuck in time. Overall a novel rings of history and written with a bang. Once starting The Clock of Life, there was no stopping. It’s a fascinating novel without too many points that drag or feel superfluous. Nancy Klann-Moren’s novel is a great read for anyone interested in the Civil Rights movement, southern fiction, Vietnam or coming-of-age stories.
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