Post Road Magazine #27

The Home For Wayward Clocks, Kathie Giorgio, Main Street Rag Publishing

G. K. Wuori

Good books, like good news from a doctor, often come to us in strange ways.

Some time ago I received an e-mail from a woman named Kathie Giorgio saying she was off on a sabbatical to Maine and had just discovered my story collection, Nude In Tub (where all the stories are set in Maine). She said she was going to read it during her break. The purpose of the e-mail was just a meet'n greet. Not long after that, apparently impressed by the stories, she invited me to be a "celebrity" on a Celebrity Saturday that she runs at her writing studio: Allwriters' Workplace and Workshop in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She also invited me to be part of a panel at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books. I accepted these invitations, then decided to pay her the courtesy of reading her novel.

Sometimes I hate reading the books of writers I know, either because I usually end up feeling jealous or else the book is so awful I don't know what to say. The Home For Wayward Clocks fits in neither category. It's a book I could never write and would never want to and it's totally enchanting. It's also a wonderful example of what some of the smaller presses are putting out.

The premise is simple: in his childhood, James Elgin was such a raucous baby/toddler that his bipolar mother ended up locking him in a root cellar with only a ticking Big Ben clock for company. She also beat him and was in other ways cruel to him (e.g., a dog collar around his neck so that he could be restrained). James, thus, grows up with a huge distaste for his mother and a huge fondness for clocks, something he begins collecting when he is still a young man. Following the loss of his job as a school janitor, and facing a truly desperate poverty, he decides to turn his house into a clock museum with the hope that people will pay to see his ever-growing collection: mantel clocks, wall clocks, grandmothers, grandfathers, cuckoos, cathedrals, alarm clocks. This is how we enter The Home For Wayward Clocks in What Cheer, Iowa.

The clocks are everything to James: "…the clocks told James to breathe, to always move on to the next inhale, the next step. The clocks talked to James in a way no one else ever did. They had the softest voices he ever heard. He didn't duck when they spoke."

Two incidents shape the bulk of the book, one of them seemingly insignificant, the other horrific.

One morning, as he goes onto his porch, he sees a young woman sitting there reading his paper. He is annoyed by such boldness but, as it turns out, the young woman — called Cooley by her friends, her name is really Amy Sue Dander — has a broken alarm clock she's hoping James can fix. This is the beginning of a relationship marked not only by Amy Sue being awestruck by James's clocks — James has seen that before — but by her understanding and respect for the high art that has gone into the crafting of those intricate machines. This is something James notices.

The other incident involves the town clock, forty feet off the ground. It runs slow and for half the year it is an hour off because no one can go up there to adjust it for Daylight Saving Time. Can James fix it, he's asked? He's horrified at the prospect of climbing up a fire department ladder to get into the clock, but an inaccurate clock, a naughty clock, is not an option in James's world. Yes, he can do it, and he does, but once he's inside the clock's works the hour turns, the chimes go off with horrendous volume, and James is deafened.

No longer can he hear his clocks. No longer can they speak to him and tell him of their ailments and maladjustments. No longer can he tell when the pull of a chain or the winding of a spring is just so and properly done. Worse yet, in a moment of panic once he's been rescued from the tower and taken home, he breaks one of the clocks and cuts his hands and feet so badly that the doctor, who's come to check his ears, has to apply thick bandages to his hands and feet.

Reenter Amy Sue Dander. Grudgingly, James allows Amy Sue to become his helper, and gradually a relationship of trust and affection is built between the old man and the young girl. Amy Sue, as it turns out, has a mother and a history of abuse every bit as ferocious as James's. Both of them are crippled by what was done to them, but they are equally determined to build a life from the small bits of hope and possibility that were left to them.

I'm tempted to say that by the end of this astonishing novel things all come together like clockwork for these two damaged souls, but that might be too much. Suffice it to say that a sequel has just been published, Learning To Tell (A Life) Time (Main Street Rag Publishing), where we get the full story on Amy Sue. Giorgio, who has also published a short story collection, Enlarged Hearts (Main Street Rag Publishing), is someone you absolutely must read.

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