I’ve read other epic poems and novels in verse and while I appreciated and even enjoyed them, I’ve always been aware of the technique. The books are impressive, but the form always seems like a very impressive stunt. (Homer deserves his own category.) I agree with Hansen’s comment in his note about form that “[a] book’s form should fit its themes” (ix). [It’s only now, upon re-reading the note, that I see the words ‘race’ and ‘run.’]
Hansen’s form not only fits his epic themes, but also his protagonist – Clair runs. And runs. And runs. The meter becomes her footfalls as she races around pre- and post-apocalyptic Minnesota. There is no more oil. Banks seem to be ruling the world. It is a world of biking and bartering, of city vs. suburb. But I want to be careful here. The Epic of Clair does not belong in the same neighborhood as other young adult dystopian science fiction novels that deserve to remain nameless. Hansen has carved out his own genre (dystopian realism?) and has written a book that should transcend age groups. (Even the publisher seems to have had trouble categorizing it – the ‘Young Adult / Poetry / Literature’ listing on the back still seems inadequate.) Even as Hansen has carved out new territory, he offers a sly nod at more popular and predictable genres. Clair’s encounter with the so-called vampires is absolutely priceless.
I think what’s most remarkable about this book is its tone. Considering the subject matter and the traditional take on it, one might expect a certain bleakness. But instead there is both subtle humor (all the more impressive because of the form) and, in the end, hope.
Hansen doesn’t draw attention to it, but he’s also a word wizard. “An entity with no face has no ears” (79), “the engineer of hope” (111), and “an ear-tickling creek of lovely sound” (115) are but a few examples of his deft handling of language.
Just as the book defies categories, so does my recommendation. Read it yourself. Give it your children. Put it in your classroom library. Spread the word!
[Full disclosure: The author is a Facebook friend and former colleague. But he knows me well enough to know that if I didn’t like the book, I’d say so.]