Reviews

Who are You, Calvin Bledsoe?, by Brock Clarke

jonjeffryes's review against another edition

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4.0

A modern updating of Graham Greene's Travels With My Aunt -- which I did not realize until reading the author's note -- with Clarke's trademark humor and semi-absurd plotting. A joy to read.

getlitbookclub's review against another edition

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3.0

Do you ever finish a book and are still not sure how you feel about it? This book feels like an SNL Stefan skit - it's got everything: a chase around Europe, a surprise kooky aunt, dueling niche industry blogs, tongue-in-cheek Calvinist critique, it's a mystery, it's an adventure, it's a farcical coming-of-age story for a 50yr old. Parts of it are so hilariously funny, and the twists did keep me guessing, but it didn't quite land the way I expected it to. It's a book that feels like it has a lot to say, but I couldn't quite grasp what the take-away is supposed to be. It's good pick for a bookclub because I think this book creates a reading experience that would benefit from an in-depth discussion with others.

For more reviews and book recommendations, look for me on Instagram @GetLitBookclub

1sourapple's review against another edition

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4.0

I'd read one of Clarke's previous books, "An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England," and enjoyed it, but it was years ago and I didn't remember why I liked it until I started reading this one. Clarke's writing is witty, fast-paced and, before you know it, you've already packed your bags for wherever it is he's taking you. If you liked Maria Semple's "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" you'll probably like this book.

I didn't love the ending, however. It wraps up kind of quickly and maybe I wasn't convinced Calvin had learned enough, changed enough, really found himself.

doulicia's review against another edition

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4.0

Very entertaining. Totally wild and unexpected at every turn. Just strap in and enjoy the ride.

robinhigdon's review

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2.0

Sorry I found this one so very far fetched and it wasn't charming enough to pull it off.

becquebooks's review

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3.0

"And why was my mother's famous book so famous? I don't think it was that her readers cared so much about John Calvin or believed in his ideas. I think that they cared that my mother cared; they believed because she believed. They could tell, no matter what language the book was in, how truly my mother believed in John Calvin. They wanted to believe in something they way my mother believed in John Calvin. It wasn't necessarily that they wanted to believe in what she believed. They wanted to believe how she believed."

Dear readers, meet Calvin Bledsoe, he works as a blogger for the pellet stove industry, he lives in Maine, his parents have died in short succession under mysterious circumstances, and his long-lost aunt shows up to take him on a mysterious trip. His mother is famous for writing a book about John Calvin, and his theology is also woven throughout the book and the journey. It is a book, I think about having something to believe in, and what that might cost you, and also a book about figuring out your own path.

At points it reminded me of [b:Less|39927096|Less|Andrew Sean Greer|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1524491811l/39927096._SY75_.jpg|52588011], but I didn't like it as much as I did that book. I was less charmed by Calvin, who is sort of a weird protagonist. There's a weird tense and point of view thing happening throughout, and when the reveal finally happens I wasn't very charmed by Calvin or his Aunt. There are some really lovely observations (like the above) throughout, and some very nice lines. There is also a very dry wit sprinkled throughout. I would also not be surprised to say, find out that Brock Clarke had written a dissertation, or started a dissertation on the works of John Calvin in modern life, and that all got re-purposed here. But on the whole it seemed like a long walk for a short drink, so I'd recommend it if you really like that sort of thing, or if the idea of reading a lot about John Calvin in a fiction setting is appealing.

My thanks to Algonquin Books for sending me an ARC Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?, all opinions are mine.

cindyp's review

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5.0

Calvin Bledsoe lives an unremarkable life in rural Maine until a heretofore-unknown aunt appears at his mother's funeral. Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? by Brock Clarke (An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England) is a coming-of-age story told by a middle-aged man. "I may have been Calvin Bledsoe," he says, "but for perhaps the first time ever I wondered what it meant to be him." Reminiscent of Aunt Augusta in Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt, Calvin's flamboyant aunt Beatrice whisks her stodgy nephew to Europe: "My aunt had an aim and I just didn't know what it was at the time."

Calvin is named after the theologian John Calvin, on whom his mother was an expert; the preacher was an outsized presence in his life. Calvin's natural inclination to fade into the background, because his namesake always overshadowed him, is upended by Beatrice's dynamic personality and mysterious history. They become involved with spies, thieves and adulterers, to Calvin's shock and his aunt's equanimity. When the trip's purpose becomes clear, Calvin realizes, "Learning lessons is like hard exercise, especially if the lessons you're learning are the opposite of the lessons you've already learned."

The dialogue is quick and witty, with John Calvin quotes perfectly and sometimes hilariously integrated into Calvin's thoughts and conversation. This novel deals with sober subjects (life, death, betrayal) in an uplifting and often humorous manner. Readers who enjoyed Andrew Sean Greer's Less will find this novel equally satisfying.

-reviewed for Shelf Awareness 9/3/19
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