The Spell:

A Romance

The hero of this American gothic nightmare comedy is a messianic hillbilly prophet whose onetime local glory as a high school football star gives way to a career of outlaw questing. With the mysterious disappearance of his main squeeze―an edgy, spooky honkytonk chanteuse―that quest becomes increasingly deviant and deranged.

The landscape through which the earnest, confused seeker chivvies his banged-up black pickup truck is a magical and timeless one, its dense woods and dark lakes charged with a heavy burden of industrially-produced hexes, curses and toxic spells. Mechanical animals and changeling species, subjected to continual torments of re-programming, run half wild through a menacing backwater of poisonous tarns, vicious factories and slimy swamps. Elders of strange religions exercise insidious, unpleasant influences, while witches in Secret Shacks broadcast bad vibrations that produce genetic alterations. In this mutated vision of “reality” now, there is a general spell under which everybody is bound.

The Spell: A Romance is a strange, haunting and funny poetic novel about the survival of medieval chivalric codes―and their dangerous implications―in a toxic-shocked modern world. It is also a tale of love and quest, betrayal and revenge. The mysterious protean voice of the book slips back and forth from comic narrative prose to spare lyrical poetry as it becomes the voice of legend: allusive, expansive, suspending disbelief.

“Reading The Spell is like eavesdropping on the brain of Homer Simpson reading Dante’s Inferno while driving a speedboat. The strength of Clark’s book is found in the mixing of discourses and genres . . . from the Western novels of Zane Gray to the movie Blade Runner, from the Canterbury Tales and the Roman de la Rose to Bakhtin’s essay on the incontrovertible power of medieval laughter.” ―American Poetry Review

Tom Clark was the poetry editor of The Paris Review from 1963 to 1973, one of the prestigious journal’s most important decades. He published his own collections of poetry exclusively with Black Sparrow Press. His numerous literary essays and reviews have appeared in publications  including The New York Times, London Review of Books, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. He has also published six biographies of twentieth-century literary figures. Clark died in Berkeley, California, in 2018.