Claire Marvel by John Burnham Schwartz

A few year’s back I read Jonathan Burnham Schwartz’s devastating novel Reservation Road and was really impressed. So I was really looking forward to reading Claire Marvel. The book’s opening lines: “There was before her and now there is after her and that is the difference in my life” promised great things- but I’m not sure Schwartz actually delivers.

The book is narrated by Julian Rose, a grad student at Harvard who meets and falls immediately in love with Claire Marvel during a rainstorm. The book traces their relationship through all the requisite romantic obstacles and I suppose I can fairly say that the only thing that prevents this book from being totally been there, done that is the quality of Schwartz’s prose.

As Julian chases and abandons and chases and abandons the love of his life- we are never really certain of her and, in fact, even though the book is named after her- we really come to know very little about Claire as a person.

Members of my book club loved this book…but I found it somehow unsatisfying.

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MY QUESTIONS

1. Does the novel live up to the promise of its first line?

2. Do you believe in love at first sight? Do you believe that’s what ahppened between Julian and Claire?

3. The book is filled with small moments between the characters that, in retrospect, take on momentous proportions. Why? Do you believe love distorts your perspective?

4. On several occasions Julian abandons Claire – what does this tell us about his character?

5. Do Claire and Julian love the people they eventually marry?

6. At the novel’s ending, Julian burns Claire’s journals. What do you think happens to him after that? I believe Julian is a flawed character and that the journal burning is meaningless except as a conclusion to the novel. What do you think it means?

FOOD
LEMON-ROSEMARY CHICKEN SKEWERS

8 skinless boneless chicken breast halves (each about 7 ounces)
48 8-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes, drained
1 1-pint basket grape tomatoes or small cherry tomatoes
1 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh lemon juice
6 bay leaves, broken into small pieces
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
4 large garlic cloves, pressed
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce

1 cup light mayonnaise

Cut each chicken breast half lengthwise into 6 thin strips. Thread each strip completely onto 1 skewer, leaving 1/2 inch of skewer exposed at 1 end. Press 1 grape tomato onto end of skewer. Divide skewers between two 15x10x2-inch glass baking dishes, stacking skewers if necessary.

Pour oil into bowl. Whisk in next 6 ingredients. Pour marinade over chicken. Marinate 1 hour at room temperature, turning often, or cover and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Remove skewers from marinade and arrange on 2 large rimmed baking sheets; reserve marinade. Bake chicken until just cooked through, about 8 minutes. Transfer to platter.

Transfer reserved marinade to medium saucepan. Boil over medium-high heat 1 minute. Cool marinade 15 minutes. Strain. Pour 1/2 cup marinade into medium bowl; whisk in mayonnaise. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon remaining marinade over chicken to moisten. Serve chicken with sauce.

Makes 24 servings.

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