cover image In the Shape of a Man

In the Shape of a Man

Paul Clayton. CreateSpace, $11.69 paper (326p) ISBN 978-1-4904-0942-9

Clayton's (Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam) latest provides a portrait of neighboring families living in the San Francisco Bay area in 1999. Enjoying the trappings of the good life, Allen and Tina Collins find their relationship tense as Tina displays hostility toward Reynaldo, their seven-year-old adopted son, and Allen prefers ignoring the abuse to intervening. Twenty-something neighbors Rad and Tawny, meanwhile, deal with money woes, Rad's inability to find a sponsor as a skateboarder, his hostile father, and a former roommate's giant Burmese python, which is living in their garage. Allen's increasing unwillingness to defend Reynaldo and his patronage of a raucous bar contrast with Tawny's resolve to take control of her life. At times, Clayton's novel slams the reader with its message about evil, choice, and responsibility. Tawny and Rad achieve insights about the importance and redemptive prospects of love, while the erratic Tina and the irresolute Allen show the flip side of what "the shape of a man" can conceal. The book's contrived resolution, however, seems trite and clumsy.