Clarke, Brock 1968–
Clarke, Brock 1968–
PERSONAL: Born November 15, 1968, in Springfield, MA; son of Peter Paslee (an English professor) and Elaine Giustina (a dental hygienist) Clarke; married Lane Ulrich, June 29, 1996; children: Quinn Alonzo. Education: Dickinson College, B.A., 1990; University of Rochester, Ph.D., 1998. Religion: "Lapsed Catholic."
ADDRESSES: Home—1712 Howland Pl., Cincinnati, OH 45223. Office—English Department, University of Cincinnati, P.O. Box 210069, Cincinnati, OH 45221. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, lecturer in English, 1997–98; Clemson University, Clemson, SC, assistant professor of English, 1998–2001; University of Cincinnati, OH, assistant professor of English, 2001–.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association, Association of Writers and Writing Programs.
AWARDS, HONORS: Mary McCarthy Prize for short fiction, 2000, for What We Won't Do; Walter Dakin Fellowship, Sewanee Writers' Conference, 2002; Wesleyan Writers Conference fellow; Lightsey fellowship; Tennessee Williams scholarship; Bread Loaf Writers' Conference scholarship; New York State Writers' Institute award.
The Ordinary White Boy (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 2001.
What We Won't Do (short stories), Sarabande Books (Louisville, KY), 2002.
Carrying the Torch (short stories), University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including New England Review, American Fiction, Brooklyn Review, South Carolina Review, Mississippi Review, Journal, Twentieth Century Literature, Southwestern American Literature, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Fiction editor, Cincinnati Review.
SIDELIGHTS: With his debut novel, The Ordinary White Boy, and two subsequent short story collections, Brock Clarke established a reputation as an author of fiction concerning average Americans learning to cope with failure or, at best, ordinariness in their lives. As Clarke admitted to Collected Miscellany interviewer Kevin Holtsberry, the idea behind his first novel was not exactly original, yet "I thought I had things to say about this man [Lamar.]" Set in Clarke's hometown of Little Falls, New York, the central story line in The Ordinary White Boy is the disappearance of a black man in the town. Local boy Lamar, who has taken a reporter's job at his father's newspaper, sets out to investigate but finds himself repeatedly sidetracked by his indifference to the man's fate and the desire to find more entertaining things to do. In the end, Lamar discovers that the man was not the victim of racism after all and, in the process, confronts the unpleasant reality of who he, his friends, and his family truly are.
Booklist critic Gillian Engberg observed that although the novel's hero is not very sympathetic, "this messy honesty is the book's strength." Some reviewers considered the protagonist and story uninteresting, with one Publishers Weekly contributor describing it as a "rather dull tale" with a style "as flat as life in Little Falls." However, Joanna M. Burkhadt attested in Library Journal that the author offers "insightful philosophy about innocence and guilt, bravery and cowardice, substance and drama," and a contributor to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel concluded that The Ordinary White Boy is "a subtle commentary on society."
Clarke's short story collections, What We Won't Do and Carrying the Torch, earned guarded praise from reviewers, who generally noted that Clarke continues to punch holes in the concept of the American dream. Reviewing What We Won't Do, a Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "probes the hearts and minds of the disaffected and the unfulfilled." The critic felt that Clarke sometimes falls short of conveying his premise effectively but added that the collection has "intriguing conceits … as well as flashes of talent." A Kirkus Reviews contributor faulted the author for being "too fond of novelty" in his stories, resulting in an "uneven debut." On the other hand, Tim Feeney noted in the Review of Contemporary Fiction that the stories "combine the comic and the deeply sad to create something at once bleak and radiant."
Carrying the Torch, according to a review in Publishers Weekly, is a compilation of nine stories that illustrate "the plight of … unfaithful husbands, dissatisfied wives and angry children in search of home and meaning." Reviewing the book for Booklist, Carol Haggas commented that the tales "are both subdued and effusive, simultaneously bitter with hard-won wisdom and giddy with dewy-eyed optimism."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of The Ordinary White Boy, p. 2084; February 1, 2002, Bonnie Johnston, review of What We Won't Do, p. 921; September 1, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of Carrying the Torch, p. 62.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2001, review of What We Won't Do, p. 1625.
Library Journal, August, 2001, Joanna M. Burkhadt, review of The Ordinary White Boy, p. 159.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 2, 2001, "Brock Clarke," review of The Ordinary White Boy, p. 9.
Publishers Weekly, August 6, 2001, Judith Rosen, review of The Ordinary White Boy, p. 47; August 13, 2001, review of The Ordinary White Boy, p. 283; December 24, 2001, review of What We Won't Do, p. 41; July 18, 2005, review of Carrying the Torch, p. 62.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 2002, Tim Feeney, review of What We Won't Do, p. 154.
Collected Miscellany, http://www.collectedmiscellany.com/ (September 29, 2003), Kevin Holtsberry, "Brock Clarke," interview with the author.