The Man I Never Wanted to Be

John Jacob Clayton, Author
John Jacob Clayton, Author Permanent Press (NY) $24 (230p) ISBN 978-1-57962-014-1
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
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Divorced community college professor and former 1960s activist David Rosen, the hero of this harrowing second novel from Clayton (Radiance), lives with his young son, Jeremy, in rural Western Massachusetts, keeping the modern world at bay. Then an old friend and lover from the ""movement,"" who runs a shelter for battered women, asks him to take in one of her worst cases: Kerry and her infant son, Andrew, who are on the run from her husband. David is frightened by Kerry's history of abuse--with good reason, as it turns out. When she calls her husband, Chuck, and tells him where she is, he smashes David's door down with an ax. In the aftermath of this attack (possibly to exonerate herself before her husband), Kerry falsely accuses David of trying to rape her. Just as he is patching up the damage at his college, she turns up again with her child. Again David agrees to help her, even though it means endangering his child and his ex-wife. A fascinatingly flawed, arrogantly ""nice"" character, David is pulled into events that cause him to question his basic beliefs about himself, including the belief that he is not the murdering kind. During David's two, genuinely terrifying encounters with Chuck, Clayton's prose condenses to an extraordinary, fluid intensity. Rejecting the implication of precursors like Deliverance that murderousness is the one primitive bond between men, Clayton reasserts the faith that violence is in fact unconscionable, a wreck of worth, work and love. (Dec.)
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