Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is the kind of book that doesn’t come along every day, an interesting inversion of a fairly common literary trope. It’s an unusually well-aged coming of age tale, a balding bildungsroman if you will, dropping the spiritual awakening and self-actualization of a youngster crossing the cusp into adulthood into an emotionally inert blogger pushing 50. A character like this – one who presents as innocent and culturally ignorant without ever coming off as stupid or hateful or mean – is difficult to pull off, let alone as your hero. The funny part is that it works. That’s far from the ONLY funny part, of course. Clarke demonstrates a dry wryness throughout that juxtaposes nicely with the baseline absurdity that lurks just beneath the surface ... The narrative is rife with red herrings and odd twists to offset the scattershot emotional motivations ... As you might imagine, the resulting chaos makes for a hell of a read ... an engaging literary feat, a coming of age story for the already-aged.
Seesawing between surreal plot twists and verbal jousts, Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is a coming-of-age story wrapped around wry religious critique. Calvin’s Calvinist doctrine clashes against Beatrice’s freewheeling lifestyle at every turn. Seasoning his comic stew with sly turns of phrase and deadpan humor, Clarke guides the audience toward a touching answer to the question posed by the book’s title. Although some may scratch their heads at the concluding flurry of events, Clarke is just as interested in the journey as he is in the destination, and in his deft hands, Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is cheeky, absurd, and surprisingly poignant.
Enter Brock Clarke, whose zany new novel, Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?, has an offbeat voice that perfectly fits this offbeat story ... Part of what makes the novel work so well...is the wry humor that permeates the story ... Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is successful in illuminating lost lives that end up being less unsuccessful than those living them believe. It’s also a fun read by a rather successful author.
Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is the sort of novel that goes down easily, but somehow adds up to something less than the sum of its parts ... Clarke has displayed a fondness for quirky characters, and Calvin’s Aunt Beatrice might be among his quirkiest. The problem with her portrait is that Clarke too often substitutes tics and shtick for real insight into her character. Calvin, the novel’s narrator, is the sort of protagonist who’s easy to like but hard to love, as he’s more acted upon than actor. By the novel’s end, it’s hard to say we have much more of an answer to the question posed by its title than we did when it started.
Command of narrative tone has long been a hallmark of the underheralded Clarke’s...fiction, and here he sustains a tightrope balance between the matter-of-fact observations of the titular protagonist and the increasingly outlandish adventures he finds himself in ... the eye-opening discoveries of the narrator provide a mind-bending experience for the reader. Unquestionably the funniest novel ever written about Calvinism.
Clarke...crafts a deeply quirky narrative about a middle-aged pellet stove blogger and the wacky adventures he finds ... At times the freewheeling plot veers into confusing territory, and the weird nicknames and freakishly horrible events that plague the title character go overboard. Still, Clarke keeps it all grounded with standout prose. Fans of Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt and John Irving’s The World According to Garp will delight in this story of a modern-day traveler.