A stunning and lyrical debut novel
Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.
Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls. But Mary and her partner, Nia, offer an unexpected refuge to Ari and her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse.
Yet the respite does not last, and Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather, Len, and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.
Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions, testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. Ari spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.
The Clay Girl is a beautiful tour de force about a child sculpted by kindness, cruelty, and the extraordinary power of imagination, and her families — the one she’s born in to and the one she creates.
Heather Tucker has won many prose and short-story writing competitions, and her stories have appeared in anthologies and literary journals. She lives in Ajax, Ontario.
Published: October 2016
Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.5 in.
“Ari Appleton has been dealt the worst hand ever in terms of parents: her dad is an incestuous pedophile who’s both charismatic and cruel, and her mother is an incredibly egocentric addict who bore six girls and has not an iota of love for anyone but herself. But Ari attracts goodness and mines kindness even from the most surprising people, and because she is a story weaver, she reroutes her own story. Ari moves away from the drug culture and sexual revolution in Toronto in the 1960s to Pleasant Cove, an idyllic place where she is surrounded by love and nurturing. This novel is full of those take-away-your-breath lines, the ones you want to write down and keep in your pocket for when you need them. Ari joins the ranks of heroines like Lyra Belacqua or Liesel Meminger, girls who take the worst society has to offer and turn it into strength and kindness.” — Linda Sherman-Nurick, Cellar Door Bookstore (Riverside, CA)
“In Heather Tucker’s debut novel, The Clay Girl, the language is consistently playful and evocative, the characters are disturbing and lovable, the plot is profound and carefully constructed. Tucker’s voice is unique and powerful. She is certainly a writer to watch.” — Michelle Berry, author of Interference
“Stunning - a really great novel full of enormously difficult life situations yet handled by an author blessed with a flair for language, poetics, insight, truly great characters and a kind of grace that defies description. A coming-of-age like no other. Don't miss this!” — Sheryl Cotleur, buyer for Copperfield’s
“This is a beautifully written story of strength and resilience, leading to ultimate victory over seemingly impossible challenges. Hariet/Ari/Arielle (known by various names to different people at different times) was born into an epically dysfunctional family. She must deal with an uncaring mother, a sexual predator father, and an abusive stepfather while being denied escape to a loving, supportive aunt. Despite these and other challenges, the girl not only survives, but, with help from caring teachers, grows into a strong young woman who finds love and is able to nurture others as well as herself. This book, which is like no other in terms of character, voice, and plot, rewards the reader with a memorable heroine who triumphs over daunting odds.” — Joe Strebel, Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville, IL)
“In Ari Appleton, Heather Tucker has created an unforgettable little girl whose resilience in the face of heartbreaking circumstances is remarkable. The Clay Girl tackles a difficult subject with tenderness, empathy and unflinching honesty.” — Lynne Kutsukake, author of The Translation of Love
“WOW! Incredible writing meets an absolutely devastating story in this amazing poetic debut novel. The struggle to overcome brutal emotional and physical trauma in childhood colors every aspect of the lives of the Appleton sisters. Tucker’s writing is edgy, sparse, and inventive as she expertly shows us the inner thoughts and workings of a truly dysfunctional family which manages to maintain hope and grace despite incredible odds. Achingly beautiful!” — Phyllis Spinale of Wellesley Books