Parkinson’s Blues: Stories of My Life, a recently published book by John J. Clayton, caught my attention because of my involvement with Parkinson’s Disease. However, in reading the book, I became involved in so much more. This book is rich, powerful, poignant and it is hard to put down. My husband finished it in one day. I am savoring it over many days.
Many years ago, our family lived in Britain and we were delighted watching “newly minted” Monty Python skits on TV while there and one skit remained with our family. It was a surprise and delight to begin reading the book and find this mentioned.
The book begins with the arrival of the dark unexpected. In a Monty Python skit, someone in a drab living room complains about being nagged by questions. “I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition,” he complains. Suddenly Michael Palin, in red 16th century costume, bursts into the room. “Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!” he shrieks.
Clayton continues, questioning, “Who expects the onset of Parkinson’s? Or cancer? Or stroke? Or the loss of a child? The terrible surprise—the life we didn’t expect—isn’t limited to Parkinson’s. It’s the existential condition of everyone’s life” The book’s fourteen sketches link the experience of PD with the experience of childhood sickness, family battles, the struggle to make a good life out of a painful life. In the sketches there is expressed the hope that we can grow spiritually in the midst of what is terrible.
Parkinson’s Blues explores the anticipated pain and unexpected comedy of Parkinson’s in a manner that is deep, graceful and dignified. It is Clayton’s superb story telling skill that moves the reader to and through life and it’s changes.
Author John J. Clayton has published nine volumes of fiction, both novels and short stories. His collection of interwoven short stories, Minyan, was published in September 2016; his collection Many Seconds into the Future in 2014. Mitzvah Man, his fourth novel, arrived in 2011.
Clayton’s stories have appeared in AGNI, Virginia Quarterly Review, TriQuarterly, Sewanee Review, over twenty times in Commentary, in Notre Dame Review, Missouri Review and The Journal. Two personal essays have been recently published in Jewish Review of Books. His stories have won prizes in O.Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. His Radiance, a collection of stories, was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.
Clayton grew up in New York City; received his B.A. at Columbia, his M.A. at NYU and his Ph.D. at Indiana. For much of his career he taught modern literature and fiction writing as professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has also written two books of literary criticism: Saul Bellow: In Defense of Man and Gestures of Healing, a psychological study of the modern novel.
NOTE: Please join us for a special evening with author, John J. Clayton, as he presents his new book on his personal journey with Parkinson’s Disease—the arrival of the dark unexpected—the existential condition of everyone’s life. In fourteen sketches, John J. Clayton links the experience of Parkinson’s with the experience of childhood sickness, family battles, the struggle to make a good life out of a painful life. Tuesday, September 15 th at 7:30 PM Eastern 6:30 Central 4:30 West Coast
If you missed this event there will be a video available soon.
Questions and Answers
John Clayton generously agreed to answer a few questions. Read on and learn more.
Barbara Keer: Parkinson’s Blues is your tenth book. Is this book a departure from the prize-winning fiction books you have written previously?
John Clayton: Previously I’ve written fiction. This time I found myself writing the simple truth. Also, I found myself digressing. Not rambling but allowing myself to discover my structure–fold stories about my parents into stories about Parkinson’s.
B. K.: What inspired you to write a memoir?
J. C.: It’s memoir but not A memoir. I guess the answer is that my sickness insisted on my writing about my uncle, my aunts, my sickness. Stories took hold of me and wouldn’t let me go.
B. K.: How long did it take? Was it physically difficult to accomplish?
J. C.: Everything is physically difficult for me now. It’s hard to put down a sentence in the morning. Writing has always come easy–no longer
B. K.: Are there any thoughts that you would like to share with Splash Magazines Worldwide readers?
JC: Spiritual change comes with illness–or CAN come. Parkinson’s Blues is not a memoir, though it contains memoir, and it’s spiritual exploration, though it doesn’t speak often about God.
Thank you for your time and for the wonderful book.