This novelette is available as a free read from the author’s site (http://www.kfieldingwrites.com/free-reads/) and it’s well worth the time to check out. The story is beautiful and intense as it brings Dante Winter to life, a man discarded by his family for being flawed and unwilling to stick to the well-made, inexpensive watches his father had built a reputation on. Instead, Dante sees the potential for beauty, wasting time on useless ornamentation in his father’s eyes.
Cast out, the Dante we know trolls the junkyards for machinery he can repair and sell to keep a roof over his head and starvation from caving in his belly. If his finds happen to include colored glass or chipped beads, well then he’s made enough of a reputation of his own to let a little of his flaws out to play. But his father’s voice echoes hard in his head, never more so than when he finds a broken automaton he has neither the skill nor the tools to repair.
I love how he starts out seeing Talon, the automaton, first as a potential meal ticket but then comes to identify the machine as so much more than gears with a scarred covering that allowed Talon to pass as human. The story follows Dante’s becoming as he overcomes his past in part through a friend and shopkeeper who would like to be so much more.
Annette Swan recognizes his talent and values him for the care he takes in bringing discarded items back to rich beauty even greater than they originally possessed. She wants to bask in his vision, but doesn’t fault or press him for his lack of interest. It changes her opinion of his talents not one bit.
I’m trying to give you a sense of the power behind this story without spoiling, but it’s hard and some elements I can’t avoid. Still, this is a story of nuance and character change. Even if I laid out every plot point, the story would not be spoiled because its strength is not in the facts, but in the impact and emotions surrounding those facts.
I think the best part of it is how this isn’t the story of a broken man having to build himself a friend and lover because he’s incapable of attracting a live one. Instead, it’s the story of an imperfect man who struggles to manage social expectations as much as family ones, but has the vision to see beauty in what others disregard. He isn’t willing to overcome his so-called flaws to conform to what is expected of him. It’s a gay love story, but the love is as much for self as for Talon because Dante must accept he’s worthy of something more than quick encounters first.
This review comes months after I read the story, because I rarely review something so short, but The Clockwork Heart has stuck with me this whole time, and so I decided to share it with you.
The summer is upon us and that means hiking and camping to a lot of folks. Whether you’re new at it or familiar, here’s a quick list of what to bring with you in case something goes wrong. https://www.nps.gov/articles/10essentials.htm
This is one powerful story with a major emotional kick, or rather several. The inspirational message is lighter in some ways because the characters don’t engage it as directly, but it’s stronger in others. It speaks to how we are all flawed and sometimes need a bit of shaking up to reassess what we’ve accepted as true. The human tendency to be bull-headed and fail to listen is very much demonstrated, but so is the ability to learn from our faults, improve, and forgive.
I struggled with the characters in the beginning. Both Carmen and Spencer portrayed characteristics that are my personal tripping point if for different reasons. Spencer is used to his fancy car and privileged existence while Carmen is trying to provide security and stability for her daughter, but both are focused on an inheritance as the way to do that. It blinds them to the people in their lives and turns them into someone I couldn’t appreciate.
Luckily, there’s more to them than that.
The fight over Howard’s will, while Howard is still living, is a necessary part of their journey. It helps them see what they’re willing to sacrifice while also opening both of them up to life-changing decisions about who or what is important. I liked the development in Howard’s character when he’s originally portrayed through Carmen’s fearful gaze as only a chauvinistic, ungrateful burden. When she broadens her perspective, we see how he plays with her daughter, providing needed companionship on the isolated ranch, and how he wants to help troubled young men like his nephew Eric, Carmen’s deceased husband, was.
Spencer’s moment of realization brought tears to my eyes–good ones. It’s the first time he stops himself from jumping to conclusions and instead asks what’s going on in her head. With good reason, they are out of sync through much of the story, reaching out when the other is stepping back, so they never quite connect. This moment starts bringing about the end of that in a compelling way.
Nor is the above scene the only one to make me tear up. The story has both Carmen and Spencer struggling with expectations built on past experiences and what others thought they would or should do. The impact of others on the main characters is pressing and at times oppressive. This is not a story that happens in isolation, but rather the characters suffer from how they have been treated, betrayals, and lack of consideration that left scars deep down where they can’t be seen but the impact is a constant weight.
The story begins with Carmen against the world and Spencer abandoning everything that came before. It could easily have ended with the two banding together in isolation. Instead, they travel a rough and scary road, but they build connections not just with each other and Carmen’s daughter, but also with friends and family once lost.
I have half a dozen other comments I made, but this review is long enough so I’ll just add a quick summary. The more serious moments are lightened with cute and humorous lines while others make you stop and think. The characters come to life so much that I forgot I was reading a book, and the story has many layers affecting each twist and turn. Aspects of the story stretch out beyond this tale, making me want to know more of what comes after even though it isn’t necessary (and hope to later in the series). While the story definitely has a “back to the land” vibe, it is realistic about the dangers and struggles instead of presenting an idealized version. It was fun to see cameos of characters from Comer’s other series as well.
I enjoyed the book, the characters, and the thoughts it inspires. Well worth the time spent in their hands.