"Wonderfully original....This whimsical, bittersweet debut suggests that the stories of our lives are what save us."
--Us Weekly, Best of the Week
"Slowly, charmingly, painfully, Spilling Clarence unfolds dimensions of how our pasts and presents intermingle, how our dreams and memories feed off one another. No scalpel can touch the truths Ursu locates.... [This novel flows] as naturally as a mountain rapid, splashing you enough to drive home the certainty that there's much more to come - insights that make sense, issues and instincts real enough to demand that you stay alert.... When Harris Jones reopens its plant, officials assure one and all that the deletrium spill will have 'no permanent effects.' You can't say the same about Spilling Clarence, which lingers."
--The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Anne Ursu's writing is effervescent. She manages to fill her sentences with so much light and life that every page in Spilling Clarence is a dazzling event."
--Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto
First novelist Ursu comes off as an Alice Hoffman wannabe who doesn't quite make the grade. Like Hoffman, she creates a small community here, the fictional Midwestern town of Clarence and describes a dramatic event that causes several characters to undergo life changes. When a leak at a psychopharmaceutical factory spills a drug called deletrium into the atmosphere, strange psychological reactions afflict Clarence's residents. One by one, they are traumatized by memories of the past that they had previously buried. Bernie Singer, a widowed psych professor at local Mansfield University, is forced to remember the auto accident that killed his wife and left him to raise alone his precocious daughter, Sophie, now nine years old. Bernie's mother, Madeline, a well-known novelist who is now blocked, is disturbed by memories of her relationship with her dead husband. Susannah Korbet, who works at Madeline's retirement home, must deal with her guilt about her mother's illness, while her fianc , a grad student whose specialty is memory studies, undergoes his own crisis. Ursu's what-if scenario is diverting to some degree, but the paint-by-numbers plot development soon becomes labored, and the relentlessly perky prose style calls attention to itself with too arch irony. The characters speak like robots who've never used a vernacular contraction, stiffly uttering "cannot" or "will not" or "do not" even in relaxed conversation, and the repetition of almost identical sentence patterns echoes the sing-song cadences of children's books. While the story is lightly engaging, Ursu never establishes the suspension of disbelief that Hoffman accomplishes with such dexterity.