Charlie Martens is desperate for stability in an otherwise peripatetic life. An explosion that killed his parents when he was young robbed him of normalcy and he was shuttled from relative to relative, left alone to decipher the world he encountered in order to cobble together an answer as to how he would live. Ever the outcast, Charlie recognizes in Olivia, an international student from London, the sense of otherness he feels and their relationship seems to promise salvation. But when Olivia abandons him, his desperate mind fixates on her favorite writer, Vernon Downs, who becomes an emblem for reunion with Olivia.
Charlie’s quest takes him from Phoenix to New York City and when chance brings him into proximity to Vernon Downs, he quickly ingratiates himself into Downs’s world. Proximity invites certain temptations, though, and it isn’t long before Charlie moves dangerously from fandom to apprentice to outright possession.
“Vernon Downs is a gripping, hypnotically written and unnerving look at the dark side of literary adulation. Jaime Clarke’s tautly suspenseful novel is a cautionary tale for writers and readers alike–after finishing it, you may start to think that J.D. Salinger had the right idea after all.”
— Tom Perrotta, author of Election, Little Children, and The Leftovers
“All strong literature stems from obsession. Vernon Downs belongs to a tradition that includes Nicholson Baker’s U and I, Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, and—for that matter—Pale Fire. What makes Clarke’s excellent novel stand out isn’t just its rueful intelligence, or its playful semi-veiling of certain notorious literary figures, but its startling sadness. Vernon Downs is first rate.”
—Matthew Specktor, author of American Dream Machine
“Moving and edgy in just the right way. Love (or lack of) and Family (or lack of) is at the heart of this wonderfully obsessive novel.”
— Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“Jaime Clarke’s Vernon Downs is a brilliant meditation on obsession, art, and celebrity. Charlie Marten’s mounting fixation with the titular Vernon is not only driven by the burn of heartbreak and the lure of fame, but also a lost young man’s struggle to locate his place in the world. Vernon Downs is an intoxicating novel, and Clarke is a dazzling literary talent.”
— Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth
“An engrossing novel about longing and impersonation, which is to say, a story about the distance between persons, distances within ourselves. Clarke’s prose is infused with music and intelligence and deep feeling.”
— Charles Yu, author of Sorry Please Thank You
“Vernon Downs is a fascinating and sly tribute to a certain fascinating and sly writer, but this novel also perfectly captures the lonely distortions of a true obsession.”
— Dana Spiotta, author of Stone Arabia