Book Review: The Snow Clown by Jeff Raz
I had reviewed Jeff Raz’s first book The Secret Life of Clowns last year and found it delightful. (In fact, I had originally published one of the chapters on this blog when I first read it on Jeff’s Facebook page) So I wasn’t surprised when I received his second book The Snow Clown in the mail. I was, however, surprised to see a pull quote from my review on the first page of the book! I really had a sense of “Wow, I have readers!”
(DISCLAIMER: Jeff was a teacher of mine, and I received his book for free in order to write about it. The free-ness of this book has not affected my review. I take my integrity seriously, and so should you. Also, links to the book here are affiliate links, and I will make a few pennies if you buy the book through the links. Feel free to buy the book however you see fit.)
Jeff has written another great book, this time about his experiences as a residency clown in rural areas like Nebraska and Alaska. Like his first book, the stories are “True Fiction”- the stories happened, but some of them are made up, moved out of order, or embellished to make a better story. Although these don’t make them a true memoir, it makes it a sort of fictional memoir that rings true, and perhaps truer than if he didn’t embellish or make up any stories at all.
IN THE SNOW CLOWN, FICTION IS SOMETIMES MORE BELIEVABLE THAN TRUTH
In this, I am reminded of Dario Fo’s story about the pig. In one of Dario’s books (probably Tricks of the Trade ) he tells a story about performing in a tiny village in rural Italy. In the story he mimes beating the hell out of a pig that is in a bag. The show went well, but the villagers protest that he was so cruel to that pig. He told them it was a fake pig, but they insisted it was real. So the next day, he brought a real pig in, put it in the bag, and tried to do the routine. The villagers insisted that the real pig was not a pig at all, that he was making fun of them. The point being that sometimes fiction is truer than truth.
So it is with Jeff’s new book. While it is fictional, it feels truer than true. I have never actually toured/done residencies to Alaska (although I applied at least once, possibly on Jeff’s suggestion) but I have done residencies in many other places, and I totally can imagine myself in Alaska thanks to Jeff’s vivid writing. His relationship with his fellow performer (by turns hot and cold, intimate and awkward), the way he embeds himself in the culture, and receives kindnesses and snubs (some unintentional or unwitting) from local administrators– all of that rings true.
The book doesn’t only deal with Alaska– he also bakes in stories from his tour of his solo show Fatherland, which is a comic monologue that manages to include stories from the Holocaust and his father’s suicide. He performs in areas of rural Nebraska where he is one of very few Jews in the area (one school he tours to thinks they have two and a half Jews in class), he teaches workshops on racism and antisemitism and homophobia and the after effects of creating shows about controversial topics in small communities. He discovers that the Mexican food of Nebraska equals or betters the Mexican food in California.
Later he goes back to Alaska to help students create their own shows based on local folk stories, and is impacted by local scandals. Throughout it all, Jeff is dealing with his own personal turmoils, including his impending marriage and the constant potential that the next job won’t come, that the show he’s been doing won’t go over well, etc.
Jeff does a great job of juggling all of these very disparate ideas into The Snow Clown, and making a compelling fictional memoir that has the stench of truth. (Hmmmm… this is probably not the quote that will make it into his NEXT book. )
How about …
Jeff Raz’s book The Snow Clown weaves fiction, truth, and everything in between to create a compelling fictional memoir about creating art in very rural communities in Alaska and Nebraska. (errr…. too formal)
Jeff Raz’s new book The Snow Clown is great, and well worth reading. Although it has elements of fiction, you will probably recognize your own truth within it, and if not your own truth, certainly Jeff’s. The pig is fake, but it feels real.