Clark, Robert 1952–
Clark, Robert 1952–
Clark, Robert 1952–
ADDRESSES: Home—Seattle, WA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Vintage Books, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Novelist and memoirist. Teacher at universities, colleges, and workshops. Formerly food critic and editor for Journal of Gastronomy.
AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, 1999, for Mr. White's Confession; Guggenheim fellow, 2005.
(Editor) Our Sustainable Table, North Point Press (San Francisco, CA), 1990.
River of the West: Stories from the Columbia, Harper-Collins West (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
The Solace of Food: A Life of James Beard, Steerforth Press (South Royalton, VT), 1996.
In the Deep Midwinter (novel), Picador USA (New York, NY), 1997.
Mr. White's Confession (novel), Picador USA (New York, NY), 1998.
My Grandfather's House: A Genealogy of Doubt and Faith (nonfiction), Picador (New York, NY), 1999.
Love among the Ruins (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 2001.
Lives of the Artists, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2005.
ADAPTATIONS: Mr. White's Confession was optioned for film.
SIDELIGHTS: Seattle-based author Robert Clark was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, a city that serves as the setting for several of his books, including his award-winning novel Love among the Ruins. In addition to fiction, Clark has produced the memoir My Grandfather's House: A Genealogy of Doubt and Faith as well as several biographical works.
In James Beard: A Biography, Clark combines his enthusiasm for culinary delights with writing and research, resulting in a volume that recounts the life of the famous chef. Clark starts with Beard's roots in Portland, Oregon, and follows the noted chef during his travels across Europe prior to his decision to settle in New York City. The biography also addresses Beard's relationships with fellow cooking luminaries Julia Child and Craig Claiborne. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the book "more a chronicle of the modern American food industry" than a biography, concluding that "the absence of such primary sources as letters or reported conversations keep the man himself distant." Virginia Van Vynckt, writing in the Chicago Sun Times, noted that "reportedly, this biography is giving the food elite indigestion. For a start, Clark makes no attempt to closet Beard's active homosexuality. Nor does he hesitate to paint the dean of American cookery as a man of contradictions." Reviewing James Beard for the Lambda Book Report, Bruce Pennington observed that "reading about Beard without any recipes is, frankly, frustrating."
Clark branched out into fiction with his novel In the Deep Midwinter, the story of a lawyer from Minnesota who, in 1949, takes the train to North Dakota in order to claim his brother James's body after the man is killed, supposedly in a hunting accident. The truth is somewhat different, however, and Clark follows his protagonist as he digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding his brother's death while also introducing readers to his family. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that, "intelligent and perceptive, this first novel combines meticulous craftsmanship with a serious moral imagination." Pico Iyer, reviewing In the Deep Midwinter for Time, commented that while, "occasionally, the prose can sound like homily…. Clark unfolds the story's moral dramas with rare assurance and grownup charity." Iyer concludes that the novel "not only shows how love can lead to suffering, but also, more interestingly, points out how suffering can lead to love."
With Mr. White's Confession Clark takes a look at good and evil through the story of Lieutenant Wesley Homer, a cop following up on the murder of two female dancers. A contributor for Publishers Weekly remarked that the author "seesaws, most often successfully, between hard-boiled clichés and an earnest, self-conscious concern with the natures of memory and love," while Margaret A. Smith, reviewing for Library Journal, described the book as "a literary treat for procedural fans." Greil Marcus, writing in Esquire, observed that "Clark plays tricks with the conventions of genre. He offers the illusion of distance and safety and ends up producing a sense of displacement so shivery and complete that the result is as thrilling as it is unnerving." Mr. White's Confession garnered Clark the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel from the Mystery Writers of America.
Clark returns to nonfiction writing with My Grandfather's House: A Genealogy of Doubt and Faith. The volume recounts stories of Clark's family, and also expresses the author's personal religious beliefs, which led to his decision to join the Catholic church in the late 1990s. Ron Hansen, in a review for America, remarked that, "elegantly written and historically informative, My Grandfather's House is a fascinating, passionate, and inspiring spiritual autobiography." In a review for the Washington Post Book World, George Weigel called the book a "beautiful, captivating memoir, whose central theme is that the 'ultimate privation' is the loss of God." Philip Zaleski, reviewing the book for the New York Times Book Review, wrote that My Grandfather's House "is an odd platypus of a book, a dreamlike hybrid stitched together from half a dozen literary species including autobiography, intellectual and social history, literary criticism, and Sunday school sermon. Like a platypus, it is gawky and beautiful, cuddly and off-putting and curiously compelling."
Returning to fiction in Love among the Ruins, Clark tells the story of a pair of teenage lovers in Minnesota in 1968. Pressured by the politics of the world and impending separation to go to college, the teens decide to run away together to live off the land in the woods of Northern Minnesota. A contributor to Publishers Weekly wrote that "readers will be drawn in by Clark's languid rhythms and his careful period detail." In a review for the Washington Post Book World, Justin Cronin described the novel as "a book that wants to be about less, not more. Love itself is a grand statement, and Love among the Ruins achieves a quiet grandeur when its author is true to the characters he has made." Comparing the work to Clark's earlier novels, Los Angeles Times reviewer Merle Rubin remarked that in this book "the characters are less interesting and the narrative voice less convincing, perhaps because it is too busy telling us what to think of the characters." Nevertheless, Rubin concluded, "Clark has an intuitive understanding of how to pace the story he tells, and the events he describes so movingly unfold with the calm, grave inevitability of tragedy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Clark, Robert, My Grandfather's House: A Genealogy of Doubt and Faith, Picador (New York, NY), 1999.
America, March 25, 2000, Ron Hansen, review of My Grandfather's House, p. 30.
Booklist, May 1, 1995, Alice Joyce, review of River of the West: Stories from the Columbia, p. 1548.
Chicago Sun Times, December 1, 1993, Virginia Van Vynckt, review of James Beard: A Biography, p. 57.
Christian Science Monitor, January 13, 1997, Merle Rubin, review of In the Deep Midwinter, p. 13.
Esquire, September, 1998, Greil Marcus, review of Mr. White's Confession, p. 81.
Lambda Book Report, March-April, 1994, Bruce Pennington, review of James Beard, p. 34.
Library Journal, July, 1998, Margaret A. Smith, review of Mr. White's Confession, p. 132; October 15, 1999, George Westerlund, review of My Grandfather's House, p. 74; June 1, 2000, Joshua Cohen, review of Love among the Ruins, p. 212.
Los Angeles Times August 6, 2001, Merle Rubin, review of Love among the Ruins, p. E3.
New York Times Book Review, November 14, 1999, Philip Zaleski, "Coming Home," review of My Grandfather's House, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, October 19, 1990, Molly McQuade, review of Our Sustainable Table, p. 56; November 22, 1993, review of James Beard, p. 56; November 25, 1996, review of In the Deep Midwinter, p. 57; July 20, 1998, review of Mr. White's Confession, p. 207; October 11, 1999, review of My Grandfather's House, p. 71; July 9, 2001, review of Love among the Ruins, p. 48.
Time, February 3, 1997, Pico Iyer, review of In the Deep Midwinter, p. 71; September 14, 1998, Pico Iyer, review of Mr. White's Confession, p. 76.
Washington Post Book World December 19, 1999, George Weigel, "Matters of the Spirit," review of My Grandfather's House, p. X4; July 1, 2001, Justin Cronin, review of Love among the Ruins, p. T4.
Marly Rusoff & Associates Web site, http://www.rusoffagency.com/ (April 21, 2005), "Robert Clark."
Picador Web site, http://www.picadorusa.com/ (April 21, 2005), "Robert Clark."