Who are any of us? Do we really know where we come from and how we came to be? Calvin Bledsoe is swept up by an aunt he has never met and taken on a global journey to find out the truth about family, belonging and who he really is. Reading the wonderful comic novel “Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe” is a pure pleasure.
— Sarah Bagby
Early in their journey, Calvin tells us that this is a story about the things his Aunt Beatrice taught him--one of the most important being that he would never grow up until he started saying the things he wanted to say and not what his mother would have said or wanted him to say. And most of what his mother had to say was about John Calvin--before her untimely death in a fiery explosion. As a renowned Calvinist minister, she had written a famous book on the 16th century theologian and reformationist, a book that had loomed over Calvin’s entire childhood and was still haunting his adult life.
Breaking free of our parents’--and society’s--constrictions and approval is essential to anyone’s growth but especially so for a 49-year-old man who has never moved out of his parents’ house, never flown in an airplane, and never worked at any job but that of a pellet stove industry blogger...that is until his aunt whisks him off on a break-neck, outlandish European adventure. Quirky, amusing, and bordering on the fantastic, Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?--this modern-day Travels with My Aunt-- is a mishmash of a journey to self-awareness for both our eponymous, John Calvin-spouting protagonist and for the reader.
— Shirley Wells
September 2019 Indie Next List
“Brock Clarke is a genius. His writing is consistently brilliant and stylish, which makes the quiet moments of human understanding even more striking. I LOVE this book — it is unexpected (like all his work — how can that be?), surprising, and profoundly moving. Fans of Jim Shepard and George Saunders will love Clarke and his new book about a middle-aged man whose discovery of a secret aunt (is she a spy? a fake? his mom? crazy?) leads him across Europe in pursuit of... well, he isn’t quite sure yet. I laughed out loud, I chortled, I snickered quietly, I gasped. I can see putting this book into the hands of fans of Less by Andrew Sean Greer and Where’d You Go Bernadette — readers who like to be surprised.”
— Mary Cotton, Newtonville Books, Newton Centre, MA
Summer 2020 Reading Group Indie Next List
“Inspired by Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt, Brock Clarke’s new novel is a delightful journey (physically and emotionally) that constantly keeps us guessing at the final destination. This can be said of the narrator, Calvin Bledsoe, as well as the reader. At his mother’s funeral, Calvin meets an aunt he never knew he had, and embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery he didn’t know he needed. A thoughtful coming-of-age story wrapped in a screwball mystery caper, Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? may inspire questions of your own. It may inspire you to learn about John Calvin, the pellet stove, or even small animal pornography. It will most certainly make you smile.”
— Tony Peltier, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC
“A story in which anything and everything can happen, and mostly does. This is a book of many trips—across oceans, back to the past, and, most profoundly, into the infinite deep space of the human heart. Brock Clarke has given us a wonderful novel that bursts with all the meaty stuff of real life.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Calvin Bledsoe’s journey begins with the death of his mother. An internationally known theologian and an expert on all things John Calvin, she had been the dominant force in her son’s existence, so much so that he never left home—even when he married—and, as a result, never grew up.
At his mother’s funeral, Calvin is introduced to his aunt Beatrice, a woman he had not even known existed. Beatrice immediately makes it clear to Calvin that she is now in charge of his life, and the first thing she is going to do is whisk him off to Europe with her for a grand adventure.
As Calvin and his aunt traverse the continent, it becomes apparent that her clandestine behavior is leading him into danger. Facing a menagerie of antiquities thieves, secret agents, religious fanatics, and an ex-wife who is stalking him, Calvin begins to suspect there might be some meaning behind the madness. Maybe he’s not the person he thought he was? Perhaps no one is ever who they appear to be? But there’s little time for soul-searching, as Calvin first has to figure out why he has been kidnapped, why his aunt has disappeared, and who the hell burned down his house in Maine.
Powered by pitch-perfect dialogue, lovable characters, and surprising optimism, Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is a modern-day take on Graham Greene’s classic Travels with My Aunt, a novel about grabbing life, and holding on—wherever it may take you.
About the Author
Brock Clarke is an award-winning author of seven previous works of fiction, including the bestselling An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. He lives in Maine, and teaches at Bowdoin College.
“This exuberant comic novel--involving explosions, secret agents, religious fanatics and a hapless narrator dragged around Europe by his long-lost aunt--is also a sly theological exploration of fate and predestination.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A delightful, quasi-liturgical allegory of our times. Following Calvin Bledsoe from Maine through Europe in a tale both fantastical and thoughtful, Clarke takes his readers into his safe--and wacky--hands for an experience that should not be missed. A wonderful read.” —Elizabeth Strout, author of Anything Is Possible
“This is a quirky comic gem of a novel about midlife ennui, about the mysteries of family, and the virtues of wood pellet stoves. Brock Clarke is a one-of-a-kind novelist with a captivating voice and an ability to capture both the profundity and the absurdity of our lives.” —Tom Perrotta, author of Mrs. Fletcher
“Brock Clarke's Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is a wild ride of a book, a story in which anything and everything can happen, and mostly does. This is a book of many trips--across oceans, back to the past, and, most profoundly, into the infinite deep space of the human heart. Brock Clarke has given us a wonderful novel that bursts with all the meaty stuff of real life.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
“Joyous, melancholic, and funny . . . Reminiscent of the comedic European travels found in Andrew Sean Greer’s Less, this is in many ways a coming-of-age story about a 50-year-old man. Part travelogue across Europe, part caper, part crime thriller, and full of delightfully unexpected turns, Clarke’s novel mixes prodigious insight with the playful silliness that marks all of his fiction to date. This superb work displays Clarke’s idiosyncratic style in all its glory.” —Booklist
“Command of narrative tone has long been a hallmark of the underheralded Clarke's fiction, and here he sustains a tightrope balance between the matter-of-fact observations of the titular protagonist and the increasingly outlandish adventures he finds himself in . . . a mind-bending experience for the reader. Unquestionably the funniest novel ever written about Calvinism.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Seasoning his comic stew with sly turns of phrase and deadpan humor, Clarke guides the audience toward a touching answer to the question posed by the book’s title . . . Clarke is just as interested in the journey as he is in the destination, and in his deft hands, Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? is cheeky, absurd, and surprisingly poignant.” —Foreword Reviews