Witty collection of stories by Portland local

Photo courtesy of Brock Clarke

By Sarah Tewksbury. Staff Writer

Satire and wit are coupled together with fable and politics in an unlikely marriage in The Price of the Haircut. Designed as a collection of short stories, the 240 pages bound by a catchy graphic filled cover, is more than independent pieces. Author Brock Clarke wove common themes and stylistic elements through each story, tying them together with a title story. The most common core is the deep, sentimental moral lessons taught in strange ways throughout the collection.

Clarke, author of the best selling novel, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England and The Happiest People in the World, Exley, currently lives in Portland and teaches two writing fiction courses at Bowdoin College. Beginning with the publication date of his new collection, March 13, Clarke sets off on a seven stop tour around New England and New York. He will end his tour at the Portland Public Library on April 25 at 1:00 p.m. in a conversational event with Ron Currie, a fellow critically acclaimed author.

As Clarke works through his stories, shocking elements make commonplace aspects of life seem extraordinary. Using distinctive narrative discretion, Clarke makes average life exceptional, yet relatable.

In the title story, an unarmed black teenager is shot by a white law enforcement officer. Clarke’s inspiration for the story was multifaceted. In 2001 when Clarke moved to Cincinnati, he was walking into an incredibly tense moment in the city’s history. Two months prior to his move, Timothy Thomas had been shot and killed by a white police officer. During this period in his life, Clarke was asked to write for a publication about race in the city.

“Not long after I moved to the city, a national magazine asked me if I’d be interested in writing an essay about race and post-riot Cincinnati,” Clarke wrote. “I could have written the essay…in a more conventional way, but I suspected that it would end up being like many of the essays devoted to the subject—then, and since: literal-minded, sober dutiful, dull. And so instead, I wrote a short story, a fable, in which a riot-torn city claims that the riots were caused not by white city policemen killing unarmed black men, but by a white barber saying racist things while giving very cheap haircuts, which then causes four supposedly right-minded white men to suspend their political beliefs in pursuit of those very cheap haircuts.”

Dealing with an incident that took place seventeen years ago, Clarke’s republishing of his title story in the recently released collection directly touches on the current racial political moment in the U.S. It is not insignificant that the title story deals with racial tensions concerning a white law enforcement official and that it is being resurfaced after years since its original inception.

Clarke’s stories use submersion techniques to create scenarios that should not be believable but are simultaneously engaging, sympathetic and easy to digest. In “Concerning Lizzie Borden, Her Axe, My Wife,” Clarke takes a couple having marital issues and sends them on a getaway in a bed and breakfast. On the surface it seems like a reasonable response. However, the bed and breakfast was the home of axe murderer, Lizzie Borden.

Focusing on subjects that are often difficult for society to digest, such as PTSD and the effects of being exposed to Hollywood as a child, Clarke questions why these subjects are so unimaginably hard to discuss and deal with in today’s culture. Worth the read, The Price of the Haircut is a collection that must be consumed with an open mind.


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