A finely detailed depiction of the Depression era, Clara Callan is told entirely in the letters and journal entries of two adult sisters, Clara and Nora Callan, and their older lesbian friend, Evelyn. The novel, Wright's ninth, made a surprising sweep of Canada's major awards for best novel--the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award--in 2001.
Wright has the gift of making the reader care deeply about these characters and their worlds, which include small town Ontario, where Clara is a sensitive schoolteacher, and New York City, where the younger Nora has moved to become a radio soap opera star. Since both sisters are still "on the shelf," their roller-coaster love lives--Nora's in worldly Manhattan and Clara's in the more restrictive atmosphere of small-town spinsterhood--are a primary subject of their letters and Clara's journal. This is a quiet book, studied and well researched, but thoroughly engaging and readable. Numerous references to period music, political events, and the looming war quite successfully place the reader at both the centre and the periphery of life in the 1930s. Side trips to Italy and to view the Dionne quintuplets feel entirely authentic. With deceptive simplicity, the author creates a world of clear images: "Nora came in from her shuffleboard game with a sweater tied across her shoulders, her hair damp from the rain." Most importantly, Wright has realized characters that come alive on the page--quite a feat considering the self-imposed limitations of this novel's form. --Mark Frutkin