Jason Lee Rainey lives in Hadlee, Mississippi in the 70s and 80s. He knows nothing about his deceased father until his first day of school when his mother tells the boy that his father was a hero. As the novel progresses, the story of his hero father slowly unfolds and coincides with Jason Lee’s coming-of-age struggles to grow into a worthy son.
Jason Lee’s father was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement and Jason Lee himself comes to understand the ugly truths of racism through his friendship with a black boy named Samson Johnson. He’s told at school that the interracial friendship isn’t right, but his mother, Cassie, assures him, “It’s a tough thing to do in these parts, but you be friends with anyone you want, Jason Lee. Don’t let nobody tell you different, you hear?”
The tragedy of losing his father in the Vietnam War is not only a great burden on the boy, but also on Cassie. Despite her strength in raising Jason Lee on her own, she never completely mourns the loss. The two are reminded of the war daily as Cassie’s twin brother, Mooks, a traumatized Vietnam vet, lives with them. When Cassie finally breaks down, Jason Lee is faced with yet another hardship. And it certainly is not his last. Challenges continue to come at him in the small, racist town, while Jason Lee struggles to respond in ways that would make his father proud.
“The Clock of Life” by Nancy Klann-Moren is one of those books where everything about it feels right. The novel unfolds with the ease of good old-fashioned storytelling. It’s a pleasure spending time with Southern talkin’ Jason Lee. Opening the book is like sitting down on the front porch with this hopeful kid from a less than hopeful town, and listening to him try to make sense of life. His musings are raw and his interactions with other characters are refreshingly honest. Nothing feels forced—even the setting comes to life organically through the boy’s casual observations.
While its genuine language and tone make it an enjoyable read, it’s the story’s depth that makes the novel so memorable. Nancy Klann-Moren takes an intimate look at the impact the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War had on one small family. She shows how these two chapters in our history deeply changed individuals. After reading his father’s journal, Jason Lee says, “And the whole idea of doing right for others, just because it’s right, consumed me.” This revelation, in the mind of one young Southern boy, gives an up-close look at how momentous change in a country takes place one person at a time.
Reminiscent of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Clock of Life” is a thoughtfully told, powerful story. The Underground Book Review by Candi Sary, author of Black Crow, White Lie