Alec Clayton is an artist, writer, husband and father. He is also a refugee from chain bookstore management and “little” magazines.
This book is the great circus train wreck that was America from the 1950s to the 1990s. It moves not only in time, but also in space, from the Deep South to New York City and Seattle. This landscape is populated by artists, art gallery owners, possible saints and a prostitute redeemed by the love of a good man. Now there’s a bit of gender role reversal. Characters are straight, gay and bisexual. Sex, drugs and the last taboo, creativity loom large in the tale. If this book had a soundtrack, it would be rock and roll played on a calliope.
In the 1960s, artist Lane Felts flees the South to New York City after being jilted by his lover Palmer Jackson. He falls under the spell of Scully McDonald, a failed seminarian who runs Everything for Everybody, a grassroots organization that houses the homeless and feeds the hungry. Scully launches prostitute Becca McDonald in a direction that leads to redemption. McKenzie, Becca’s daughter, becomes a successful gallery owner in Seattle. While searching for her father Scully, she represents both Palmer and Lane. More coincidences than a Dickens novel, but smoother and more believable.
The characters are complex emotionally and have depth. I enjoyed Alec Clayton’s second novel as much as the first (Until the Dawn) and look forward to his third. A tour de force of autobiographical fiction.
From the idealistic would-be priest who gets tossed out of the seminary for “imprudent zeal” to the “wrong side of the tracks” musician and artist from Mississippi to the hooker’s daughter in Seattle still looking for her daddy, Imprudent Zeal is filled with wide-ranging characters and the colorful specifics of their lives.
The rambling storyline felt comfortable and kept me smiling and watching expectantly to see where these peoples’ lives would finally intertwine.
Alec has a nice feel for place and time. I could feel the suffocating heat in Mississippi and the bone chilling rain of a lonely man at a train station on Long Island New York. I also loved learning more about the art of painting.
If I had any criticism, it’s that I wish he’d slow down the pace a bit and really plunge us farther into each individual person’s heart. I felt sometimes that the narrative became a little too much of, “They went here. They went there. They went to another place” and occasionally I got the feeling I was still in the introduction, waiting for the story to begin.
Eventually, though, his compassion for these wayward souls comes through and the book slowly and finally drew me in to the point that it surprisingly became a page turner. I was racing to get to the end to find out how it would all turn out.
The central part of the story takes place in New York at a kind of “do it yourself” community center called “Everything For Everybody” run by the exiled would-be priest. Those scenes throb with reality and color, and the mix of characters felt bone real since it’s based upon a real place. Worth the price of admission alone.
Alec has constructed a lovely book filled with warm, well-meaning people all trying to find a place in a world that makes little sense to them. I do recommend it.
Here’s a great story that will take you right back to the 1960s. The characters are wonderfully created as they live the dreams, freedoms and angst of the era while crisscrossing among each other all the way from Mississippi to New York City and Seattle, on up to near-contemporary events. In particular, the character named Scully became compelling (and lovable) to me with his colorful past which builds to a unique approach and unwavering dedication when administering to the underserved and homeless.
I really liked this book.