Thank you to Open Road Media and NetGalley for allowing me to read Clara’s Heart by Joseph Olshan. What had me originally intrigued was the cover. I then read the description and decided to request it. So I had no idea it had already been made in to a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and a very young Neil Patrick Harris long ago in the 80s! A glimpse at the movie can be seen here (hang on, it’s very 80s!): (and after seeing this clip and then reading the book, NPH was the only person I kept in mind when reading David, and of course Whoopi as Clara.)
Synopsis: When David’s mother brought Clara Mayfield from Jamaica to live in their affluent household, David told the exotic intruder to go back to where she came from. But the indomitable Clara would take no nonsense, and soon began to capture David’s affections.
The synopsis is a tad brief and doesn’t really cover a great deal of what the book holds for the reader. Firstly, Clara is indeed brought to their home following a trip David’s parents make to Jamaica. This trip was necessary in order to bring David’s mother back from the brink of despair following the death of her infant daughter. She is completely unable to re-enter reality and is painfully neglectful of David and her marriage is collapsing. David’s mother meets Clara and insists she is the only one that can save her from her funk. With hesitation, David’s father agrees and Clara arrives homes with his parents following a lengthy five-week absence. Five weeks in which David is left under the care of another black woman from North Carolina with some serious issues. Issues like hiding in the closet when a thunderstorm strikes.
Therefore, when David sees Clara in her red wool coat and her red case stepping in to the house, he is obviously taken aback with grave hesitation. And Clara isn’t exactly a person without deep-seated issues either. She talks funny, she mutters strange things, her red case is locked up and she is extremely secretive about an event in her past which has caused her great pain and shame.
Although bringing Clara in to their home was supposed to help “fix” things, this is still not a happy home. David’s mother continues engage in increasingly flakey behaviour and joins a hippie movement, studies philosophy and tries to cook strange twigs and berries for dinner. David’s father continues his lengthy absences and affairs away from home. The only constant in David’s life is Clara. So much so that he becomes fiercely dependant upon her. He is able to speak Patois with such ease he can fool her friends that call on the phone. Clara is David’s only friend. Most times, he wishes Clara was his mother because the one he has could care ever less for him.
When David’s parents decide to (finally) divorce, the struggle for David continues. He is to live with a mother that doesn’t even spend time at home, his father is trying to shed his life from the suburbs and moves to a swanky Manhattan apartment complete with a fur comforter on his bed. Again, the only person that David wants to be with is Clara. He even wishes he could move with her permanently to her weekend apartment in Brooklyn. As David ages, his parents make life altering decisions and leave David to determine where he should fit. In his heart he knows where he fits and where he wants to be, but Clara is now making it tough for David as well. For she too has become too close to David and knows that she must make a hard decision to leave the family, for it is only best for her and David as well.
Clara’s Heart is a very tender, easy-going coming of age story about David, and really, about Clara as well. In the final pages she finally shares with David her deepest, darkest secret and the shame it has caused her. However, too many times it was really quite hard to not become so annoyed and frustrated at the shameful adult behaviour and neglect that was pulling David apart. It rendered him completely confused during an incredibly important time in childhood. His need for Clara became so great, he could not go at any time without her just to get through his days. It does become very frustrating to read of the pull on David, the neglect and great confusion he is made to suffer throughout this story. Even now, days and days after finishing it, I cannot get David out of my mind. He suffered so greatly and had to grow up in a very confusing home with parents that were so frustratingly neglectful of him I wanted to shake them silly. Clara’s Heart is a gentle coming of age story and David is a character you will not easily be able to shake.
“Only one more thing I want to tell you, David,” she said…She touched her chest with her fist and said, “Only you is in dere, David. Only you in my heart.” (Clara)