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Leverett author’s tales fascinating, moving

Special to The Recorder

“Many Seconds into the Future” by John J. Clayton (Texas Tech University Press, 224 pages, $24.95)

The 10 tales in “Many Seconds into the Future” are billed by the book’s publisher as “moving stories of Jewish sensibility.” This description is both accurate and understated. Most of the protagonists of the stories are indeed Jewish and their religion (or lack thereof) plays a part in the narratives.

In the final analysis, however, the book’s sensibility goes beyond any one religion. These stories by John J. Clayton of Leverett, who is a retired University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor, revolve around parenting, romantic love, spirituality, life and death — and particularly around the moments in which those parts of human experience intersect.

In the title story a dying man tries to project his thoughts into the future, planning the rest of his life (and its aftermath) with loving care. In a couple of the stories, middle-aged men look back at their relationships with their fathers, learning lessons of dignity and forgiveness.

In “The Name Changer,” an ill man’s daughter begs him to allow a rabbi to give him a new Hebrew name that will allegedly renew his life. He reluctantly agrees with unexpected results.

The male protagonists of the stories try to heal themselves and others, try to live with mortality, try to become more or less religious, try to become better husbands or fathers or men.

Not all of the would-be reformers succeed in their efforts. One, an alcoholic, ultimately finds connecting with a bottle easier than connecting with his son and ex-wife. One wants to be a good husband but finds falling in love more compelling than staying in love.

Nevertheless, by and large, these men’s efforts are fascinating and moving. The stories are indeed short; most run between 10 and 20 pages. In the space of these few pages, however, Clayton manages to present characters who come to life for the reader — and who make the reader sympathize with their lives and their struggles.

My favorite stories were “All the Children Are Isaac,” a tale of bereavement that makes the reader as well as the hero cry, and “The Camera Eye.”

In the latter, a young man who will eventually become a photographer captures literal and figurative snapshots of his father during a memorable weekend in which the older man learns that self-respect is more important than money.

In both of these stories — indeed, throughout the book — Clayton illustrates the ways in which human beings process history and experience loss. His writing reminds us that the division between the head and the heart is entirely arbitrary.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” (www.merrylion.com) and “Pulling Taffy” (www.pullingtaffy.com). She is always looking for new books from Franklin County-related authors to review for this paper. If you have a book suggestion, email her at Tinky@merrylion.com.

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