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Saturday, 25 September 2010

Review – The Sage and the Scarecrow by Daniel Clausen

The Sage and the Scarecrow It’s the early hours of the morning, around 3 a.m., and here I am all emotional writing a review of the novel that I just completed because the ending was just so incredible and it just rounded up the whole journey that the book had taken me on in a way I wasn’t expecting, so that I hadn’t noticed the journey until I reached my destination. The novel? The Sage and the Scarecrow by Daniel Clausen, an independent and highly talented author from Florida. Here is the synopsis of the book:

Six months after his father has died from cancer, Pierce Williams find himself in a deep state of ennui. The book follows the main character through a journey from his college, where everything seems dismal and empty, to a small town on the east coast of Florida to find his best friend, Jennifer, and the only person he thinks can “cure” him. Touching on themes such as the existential pain of thinking too much, love, and the politics of everyday life, Pierce’s journey takes him through the struggle and boredom of college life as he attempts to discover his place in the world, climaxing with an ending as uniquely original and unexpected as the story itself.

Now my turn. Well, as stated above, Pierce Williams is a 21 year old middle class student at a private college (university) whose father recently died of cancer. Following his father’s death, Pierce is finding it difficult to settle back into regular college life and be around ‘regular’ college people. Being quite a deep thinker and highly reflective individual, Pierce’s current trauma only seems to heighten this reflective state, causing Pierce to become painfully aware of his own existence and of his surroundings. Through the works of a number of theorists, philosophers and general social sciences, Pierce’s dissects and analyses his own existence and that of his peers in minute and obsessive, pessimistic detail, leading him to withdraw from the outside world more and more, until the only person he can really long for is Jennifer, his best friend from high school, the most incredible girl Pierce has ever known. Eventually, Pierce goes on a journey to find Jennifer, but also, perhaps more so, to find himself, to be ‘cured’ of his depressed state.

This novel is highly original, it is written in a unique, individual style. It is a story about love, but it is also more than that. It is a true tale of self-discovery, of the human psyche. It is written in first person told through the words of the main character, Pierce Williams, who is extremely loveable in an unusual way. He thinks far too much, is a very private, withdrawn individual, probably a little too serious for a guy of his privilege and age and definitely pessimistic. We come to know him through his ramblings about Nietzsche, Marx, Kant and other such theorists and his constant observations and detailed thought processes. Pierce certainly fits the profile for a disturbed individual on the outside, however by being given access to his internal thought processes we come to realise that Pierce is perhaps the most sane, or at least sensible, person in his immediate environment and his withdrawal comes as no surprise.  He is brutally honest with himself and with those peers with whom he can truly be open, he does not try to fit in, he is wonderfully antisocial and refreshingly atypical; he is a wonder.

The language is very conversational and relaxed, with interjections and interruptions, just as you would expect from someone having an informal ‘chat’ or thinking out loud. However, it is lovely to read; considering the theoretical ideas that come up in this novel, the conversational and sometimes rambling style of Pierce makes the novel easy to read and connect with, even if you are not a fan of social sciences and philosophy as I am. But more than that, it makes you feel like you have connected with Pierce, that you have been able to enter into his private, closed off, world, and to explore his thought processes.

A result of the language style is the brutal honesty with which college life and the world in general is portrayed through Pierce’s words and those of his peers. We are given an insight into the superficiality of middle class American college life, the competitive nature, the pressures to conform, fit in and play a role, gender relations and questions of power, as well as the more deep-seated and disturbing psychological strains and issues that arise in college life. The reader is able to observe from the inside through Pierce. Pierce’s reflections on life, love, morality and politics are also profound, perhaps too much so for a typical person in Pierce’s position, but as stated above, Pierce is anything but typical, and for that reason he is all the more real.

By now you are probably wondering where the romance, love and Jennifer fit in. This is the genius of the novel, the unique treatment of love and of Jennifer. Love seems so alien to Pierce, and Jennifer becomes more of a running commentary. With all that happens in the novel, it is easy to overlook the importance of Jennifer as anything more than a memory, and it is most certainly easy to question this book being about love... until the ending. The ending just makes the novel complete in such a beautiful way. You look back and you realise what an honest story this is, you see that it is about love without being a typical romance or the typical love story; perhaps it is a truer form of love. I read this book and I immediately liked Pierce, and all through his ramblings I continued to like him, despite the negativity and pessimism, but I didn’t realise how much I loved this novel until about 15 minutes ago when I completed it and I realised the journey that I had been on, Pierce’s journey, and I was touched. Who’d have thought Pierce could possibly teach us anything about love? Only at the end do the following words from Pierce, said at the very beginning, truly make sense, and when you reach that point you feel almost enlightened:

This story is about her and me, and for this reason the book has special importance; although this story is about other things: human psychology, the impossibility of love, (no metaphysics), the problem of existence, but mostly it’s about her and me, and my love for her.

Daniel Clausen wrote this book aged 21 and has worked on promoting and producing it independently. I was a little skeptical when I first came across him on a website and won this novel in a contest. I had seen his lexical skills in his short story collection The Lexical Funk, but was not so sure how he’d measure up with a novel. I didn’t intend to review the book (I hadn’t yet begun this blog and he was not seeking reviews, but which bookworm is going to turn down a free book) until I began reading, and now I absolutely believe that this book deserves more attention, because this is a beautifully constructed novel, and with the right agents and publishers (also, a thorough proofread, but to be fair he was 21 and at university, and I am overly obsessed with the topic of spelling and punctuation, not that mine is great) this author can get the fame he deserves, because he is clearly capable of great things.

Like I said, it is the early hours, so if this was a ramble, well I can only say that I warned you. I could edit this later, but I think I’ll leave it as it is... Pierce would have done the same. I’d like to thank Daniel Clausen for the competition he held and for allowing me to review the novel (he probably thought I was crazy; probably the last giveaway he’ll ever do). I wish him all the best in his very bright future as a writer, and I hope you will all one day have the chance to read this novel.

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