After ClaudeBook | Iris Owens By Damian Van Denburgh
Comes out swinging and connects more than it misses.
Harriet, the prickly narrator of Iris Owens' 1973 novel After Claude comes out swinging on the very first page, swiping at anybody in her proximity with a relentless, sharp-tongued fury that's stunning, not only for its offensiveness but for its hysterical, bratty humor. After Claude chronicles a brief, tumultuous stretch in which Harriet is dumped by her lover Claude—for selfish yet justifiable reasons—and ultimately winds up entangled with a cult at her new digs in the Chelsea Hotel. Owens bravely keeps Harriet unredeemed through most of the book, telling her story in a voice that can't stop itself from making cruel jokes. But despite their inventive brilliance, it's those continual blasts of bile that gradually turn the text into a wearying assault with little purpose beyond its own cleverness. Harsh, bigoted attitudes and alienating flaws aside, Harriet remains undeniably compelling; a smart woman in perpetual turmoil who blames those around her for her troubles instead of doing, for her, the impossible: examining her own behavior. Where Owens fails Harriet is when she puts her face-to-face with Roger, the creepy cult recruiter, and allows her to crumble before his commanding male presence, suggesting she'd only needed a manly man all along to get herself straightened out. Despite the stinging aftereffects, After Claude is worth reading if only for the experience of Owens' powerful prose. Tough, tender, and frightfully fast, it connects more than it misses.