BRUNSWICK — Brock Clarke doesn’t own a pellet stove, nor does he have any particular interest in 16th-century theologian John Calvin. In fact, he is about as different as a person can be, from Calvin Bledsoe, the titular character of his new book, “Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?” Still, he roots for him. 

In the book, Calvin — named after John Calvin by his mother, a minister and author of a famous book about the theologian — is comfortable in complacency, living in a small Maine town in the house he grew up in, blogging for the pellet stove industry, recently divorced — though not terribly upset about it. Then, his father dies, and just a few months later, his mother’s car is hit by a train and she dies, leaving nothing behind. When an eccentric aunt he never knew he had shows up at his mother’s funeral and suddenly whisks him away on a European adventure, Calvin begins to suspect that Aunt Beatrice is more than she seems, and that perhaps she knows a thing or two about life. 

Clarke, a creative writing professor at Bowdoin College, said “Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?” is his version of Graham Greene’s 1969 novel, “Travels With My Aunt.” 

He picked up the book, a favorite, after abandoning a novel he had been working on in which the character was too similar to himself. He wanted to write a novel about “How We Live Now,” he wrote in a recent essay about the book. “How awash we are in religion, in technology, in nationalism, in violence and fear — fear of others and fear of ourselves,” but instead ended up with a book that was about how he lives now, he said. 

From “Travels With My Aunt” and some “bozo rhapsodizing about how much he loved his pellet stove” he overheard in the airport, he began to dream up Calvin Bledsoe, who is so unlike Clarke that he remained “a mystery to me” throughout the writing process. 

Bledsoe is calmer and more earnest than Clarke, happier to stay put, where Clarke likes to travel. Bledsoe loves the pellet stove industry and his entire life has been shaped by others’ love for John Calvin, where Clarke has no particular interest in either. 

“It was important to be writing about someone different from myself,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I rooted for the character in a way that I haven’t for others,” he said, adding that though he thinks the book is a little sad, he thinks it is also optimistic. “You can change your life,” he said. “It’s never too late to grow up.” 

Brock Clarke (Contributed photo)

The story began in a time that Clarke said was very “unhopeful” for him, shortly after the 2016 election, when “I wanted to be far away.” Taking Calvin across the world, finding grace for him, was helpful, he said, and exposed some “comforting elements about truth.” 

Even though he was the one in the driver’s seat, certain characters surprised him: Calvin was capable of more than he expected; “the Sociologist” began as a way to make fun of sociologists but turned into a full-fledged character and he could never predict what Aunt Beatrice was going to say next. 

She was especially fun to write, a character simultaneously mean and tender. She makes sweeping generalizations, often with no explanation. For example, early on in the book, she says that in her experience, people with combination car locks on their doors are racists. This was a statement Clarke once made in his own life, and it felt like something Beatrice would say. 

Calvin is from the fictional town of Congress, Maine, a name partly inspired by Congress Street in Portland, but Clarke does not consider himself a “Maine writer,” not in any way that is crucial to his identity. 

“I wasn’t much good at anything else,” Clarke said of his writing. “I don’t know what I’d be doing if it hadn’t worked out, maybe watching baseball in my parents’ basement.”

Hailing from a family of English teachers, he has always loved to read, and found kindred spirits in authors such as Flannery O’Connor and Elizabeth Strout, whose books were neither “properly realistic or experimental.” They wrote worlds that looked familiar, but where crazy, improbable things still happened. 

He encourages his students to read widely and write constantly, even if it doesn’t always come easily. “I like writing when it goes well,” he said, which usually for a novel is the first 40 or 60 pages. “Then you have to go back.” 

Writing “Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?” may not have always been easy, but it was definitely exciting. Writing about a blogger for the pellet stove industry and his criminal mastermind aunt, he often had a thrill, thinking, “no one’s ever done this before.” 

“It’s a great feeling when others get it,” he said. “I would rather write something different and create readers who didn’t know (that’s what they liked).” 

“Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?” hits shelves Aug. 27.

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