The Clarence Principle
The Clarence Principle is a goth Alice in Wonderland. After a dream-like prologue expressing the protagonist’s feelings of love and being left behind, the story opens with Clarence awakening after his suicide. As he wanders the unusual world he finds himself in, he seeks… well, he’s not sure. A message in steam on the bathroom mirror said “Find Me”, but who?
The reader knows that what he’s looking for is self-awareness. He doesn’t admit to himself what he’s done as he rises from the bathtub, instead thinking, “The water… appears to have a pinkish hue to it.” He looks to others for guidance, although he’s able to help them with their problems. (He just can’t help himself.) And by the end of the book, he’ll have come to terms with the broken relationship that incited him to suicide in the first place, as things take a grim turn. Although we’re told “they all lived happily ever after”, it’s hard to reconcile that with the ghastly final vision of his “heaven”.
However, writer Fehed Said tackles all this with a light touch, keeping it from being too cloying or morbid. It feels like a fable, like a journey where something unusual is down every path or through the distant door. The art, by Shari Chankhamma, is cute, even when showing such sights as severed arms sewn back on. It keeps the emphasis on the ideas instead of the gruesome, and the youthful look of her characters lightens events as well. The book could be a particularly somber puppet show, or perhaps in keeping with the original Grimm’s fairy tales, where death was a way of life.
The best scene in the book is the one that inspires the cover, of a stitched-up, winged heart flying out of reach. Clarence finds himself on stage in a theater with a girl who gives him two choices: execute the script dropped to him, or join the unseen audience. Clarence tries to follow the lines, but he finds himself acting on his own, which frees her heart unexpectedly. He recaptures and repairs it. And only by going off-script to true, impulsive emotion, is the audience motivated to respond. It’s obvious symbolism, especially with mention of “The Writer”, but affecting nonetheless.
The Clarence Principle is a thought-provoking book, more suggestive than distinct, with many creative visual images that rewards the reader who brings their own interpretation to it. Through it all runs the theme of erasure, or as Clarence learns, “The dead can die when they are forgotten. When something is forgotten, it’s like it never existed.”
A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the writer. If you’re interested in stories about post-suicide worlds, you might also try Pizzeria Kamikaze.