Saturday, October 21, 2006

Alison Clement

Featured on June 15, 2002 and October 21, 2006

I think it's safe to say that there's nothing more American than the coming-of-age novel. We're a youth-oriented bunch. Culturally, the rest of the world seems to strive for middle-age maturity, but we keep on being the Pepsi generation no matter how gray we get, at least in our heads. Apparently there's something incomprehensibly alluring about the pain and confusion of being young, falling in love and making mistakes, long after we've actually gone on to become happily jaded and cynical.

So we have a tradition of coming-of-age novels. Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn, J.D. Salinger and Catcher in the Rye, Larry McMurtry in Horseman Pass By and The Last Picture Show. Some of you may remember Blake Nelson, who appeared here last September, author of Girl, which attained cult status among American teens for both the book and the film.

We have a writer here tonight who carries on that tradition to a new level. By dint of talent, an unerring ear, dedication to craft and unrelenting hard work, Alison Clement has found a strong and unique narrative voice to tell a simple, unembellished story about a self-absorbed young woman coming of age. Because of that incredible voice, I think Pretty is as Pretty Does will be around for a long time. A fable of the late Fifties or early Sixties, without reference to historical events, it is truly Middle Americana, but with a twist. Because you see, that's really the ghost of Moll Flanders sitting at the counter a few seats down from you at Aunt Babe's Cafe, sipping a strawberry coke on the hottest day of the summer, flipping her hair and watching every move you make, never knowing that her life is about to begin.

Alison Clement's second published novel, Twenty Questions, was the 2007 Oregon Book Award winner in fiction. The title of Twenty Questions comes from the familiar children's guessing game. The novel is about a grade-school cook who avoids being murdered through chance and becomes involved in the lives of the children at her school.

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