Book Review: 'How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly'

Connie May Fowler's magical tale of a middle-aged Southern woman's coming of age.

Washington, September 25, 2011 — Deftly exploiting the techniques of magic realism, Connie May Fowler’s newest novel, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly brings readers a wonderfully contemporary southern gothic tale of ghosts and trials.

As we move through Fowler’s opening pages, we discover that her novel’s heroine, Clarissa Burden, is a renowned author who is suffering from a serious case of writers block. While she struggles to recapture her departed muse, her husband, seemingly oblivious to her plight, explores his own artistic conceits in the couple’s back yard, with nude models supplying the inspiration, not to mention the imagination.

Cover art, 'Clarissa Burden.'

Cover art, ‘Clarissa Burden.’

Her husband’s lack of respect for her and his callous disregard for her own talent leads Clarissa, quite logically, to feel that her marriage is a complete failure. But it takes a single day transcending all days—one that includes encounters with broken down cars, poisonous snakes among other life threatening situations, ghosts, and the devil himself—to force her to conclude that she doesn’t want to live this way any longer.

With a dash of mysticism and a heavy helping of southern charm, Fowler creates a living, breathing town whose atmosphere and characters will readily engage her readers and keep those pages turning as they follow Clarissa’s physical and mental travels.

By deftly weaving the lives of ghosts into her storyline Fowler underscores her belief that a reconciliation between the past and the present is necessary for her characters, both alive and dead, to become truly free. Through her close encounters of the otherworldly kind, Fowler’s Clarissa gradually learns that the world is a mystical and magical place where nature’s secrets can be preserved for many lifetimes. She also discovers that what we do, what we accomplish in our own lifetimes prove to be intrinsically meaningful in and of itself.

Author Connie May Fowler.

Author Connie May Fowler. (Credit: Lance Oliver.)

In the end, Clarissa Burden is a unique and unusual love story where, instead of learning how individuals can truly love another—or perhaps as a prerequisite to this—the novel’s title character must first and most importantly learn to love herself.

How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, by Connie May Fowler. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2010. 288 pp. (ISBN: 9780446540681).

ABOUT CONNIE MAY FOWLER: Florida native Connie May Fowler is an award-winning novelist, essayist, memoirist, and screenwriter.  She’s authored six additional books, including five critically praised novels and one memoir.  Her other novels include Remembering Blue—recipient of the Chautauqua South Literary Award—and Before Women had Wings—recipient of the 1996 Southern Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Buck Award from the League of American Pen Women. Fowler later adapted Before Women had Wings for Oprah Winfrey, resulting in an Emmy-winning film starring Ms. Winfrey and Ellen Barkin. 

Fowler serves on the faculty of The Afghan Women’s Writing Project and is currently a visiting faculty member in the Vermont College of Fine Arts’  low residency creative writing MFA program. 


Read more of Cecie’s book reviews in The Written Word at The Communities at the Washington Times.  Cecie O’Bryon England is the editor of Arts and Literature at Donne Tempo Magazine.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Cecie O'Bryon England

Cecie O'Bryon England is a writer, reader, and artist who lives with her husband, the musician, John Henry England, and their two children, in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Contact Cecie O'Bryon England


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