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Clayton, John J. 1935–

Clayton, John J. 1935–

(John Jacob Clayton)


Born January 5, 1935, in New York, NY; son of Charles (an executive) and Leah Clayton; married Marilyn Hirsch (an educational consultant), July 31, 1956 (divorced, 1974); married Marlynn Krebs (a teacher; divorced, 1983); children: (first marriage) Laura Sharon, Joshua Benjamin; (second marriage) Sasha. Education: Columbia University, A.B. (with honors), 1956; New York University, M.A., 1959; Indiana University, further graduate study, 1959-62, Ph.D., 1966.


Office—Department of English, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA. E-mail—[email protected]


University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, instructor in English, 1962-63; University of Maryland, Overseas Division, lecturer to servicemen in Europe, 1963-64; Boston University, Boston, MA, assistant professor of humanities, 1964-69; University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1969—, began as associate professor, professor of English, starting 1975, now emeritus. Summer teaching at University of British Columbia and California State University, Hayward.


Saul Bellow: In Defense of Man, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1968, 2nd edition, 1979.

What Are Friends For? (novel), Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1979.

Bodies of the Rich (short stories), University of Illinois Press (Champaign, IL), 1983.

Gestures of Healing: Anxiety & the Modern Novel, University of Massachusetts Press (Amherst, MA), 1991.

The Heath Introduction to Fiction, 5th edition, D.C. Heath (Lexington, MA), 1996, 6th edition, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.

The Man I Never Wanted to Be, Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 1998.

Radiance: Ten Stories, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1998.

Kuperman's Fire, The Permanent Press (Sag Harbor, NY), 2007.

Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected Stories, Toby Press (New Milford, CT), 2007.

Contributor of articles to Virginia Quarterly Review, Commentary, AGNI, and TriQuarterly, and other literary journals.


In John J. Clayton's novel What Are Friends For?, Sid, a young Harvard graduate tired of superficial relationships, embarks upon a relationship with Joan, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of four. Joan, according to Anatole Broyard writing in the New York Times, hopes to "separate the man from the boy in Sid by introducing him to the particular." Sid, Broyard continued, "is like a long, lost brother. We are glad to see him, to find ourselves back inside human nature. He invites us to step in and make ourselves at home in his perplexity."

Commenting on What Are Friends For? in the New York Times Book Review, Daphne Merkin felt the book "is not without glimmerings of talent, despite its generally unconvincing characters (Joan, in particular, seems to be a composite assembled from various articles on the ‘new’ female) and irritatingly polarized conception of the world (Bad Guys sell out; Good Guys strum their guitars)." Merkin concluded that if Clayton "were to let some of his perceptions grow up a little, [he] might arrive at the maturity that eludes his characters." And Broyard noted that although the author "lets his poise slip every now and then and loses the esthetic distance between his characters and himself," it's "not as off-putting as it sounds. Not at all, in fact. Sid's mistakes are youthful, sometimes even definitive, and there is something appealingly sincere about his empirical approach to reality. So many people seem to look for bypasses these days."

In Kuperman's Fire, the title character, Michael Kuperman, has a life that should make him happy. He lives in a nice house just outside of Boston with his family, and his business is doing well. However, the year in 1994, and the genocide taking place in Rwanda has distracted Kuperman, bringing to mind the terrors of the Holocaust and the pogroms that he heard about as a child. His grandfather, a Russian Jew named Jacob Goldstein, was forced to flee his homeland as a result of the violence, and managed to make it to America, helping seven other families to make the long, arduous journey as well. Though Jacob died before Kuperman was born, the stories of his life in Russia and of the brave move he made to secure a better existence for his family have always been inspiring to Kuperman, and he considers his grandfather to be his mentor though he never had the opportunity to meet him. Now, married to a woman who is not particularly religious, aware of what is happening in the world, Kuperman finds himself more and more drawn to his own spiritual roots. In the middle of this crisis of the soul, his family life begins to crumble. His mother has an aneurysm and dies, and his father Ira vanishes, only to be discovered living with his mistress. Then things become dangerous at Kuperman's workplace, when one of his major clients is discovered to have some connections to murder, leading to confusion and perhaps a few too many balls in the air. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews remarked that "the action borders on farce, but everything is resolved before Ira's schmaltzy wedding to his mistress—nothing beats a happy ending." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote of Clayton that "his morality tale effectively explores the courage, costs and rewards involved in putting others first."

Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected Stories is a compilation of a number of Clayton's short stories, all of which have a very Jewish flavor that reflects his attitude that, while he would like readers who are both Jewish and not, he is himself Jewish and speaks from that point of view regardless of what else he might have to say in his stories. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews dubbed the collection "mature, literate work." Booklist reviewer Allison Block wrote: "This is potent stuff; at 600 pages, it's a collection best savored in small doses," while a Publishers Weekly writer declared that the stories "show a steady, assured hand, delivering an exceptional and gratifying body of work." Joshua Cohen, in a review for the Forward Web site, referred to Clayton as "American Jewish literature's great baal teshuvah: a Hebrew term that characterizes a revolutionary or counterrevolutionary reversion to Olde Time Religion but translates, literally and literarily, as ‘a master of repentance.’"



Booklist, September 15, 2007, Allison Block, review of Wrestling with Angels: New and Collected Stories, p. 37.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2007, review of Kuperman's Fire; July 15, 2007, review of Wrestling with Angels.

New York Times, April 14, 1979, Anatole Broyard, review of What Are Friends For?

New York Times Book Review, July 8, 1979, Daphne Merkin, review of What Are Friends For?

Publishers Weekly, May 28, 2007, review of Kuperman's Fire, p. 38; July 23, 2007, review of Wrestling with Angels, p. 42.


Forward Web site, (October 10, 2007), Joshua Cohen, "New Time Religion."

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