The Last Temptation of Clarence Odbody by John Jughead Pierson (2011) - Pierson is a musician, writer and theater owner. His writing as a playwright are done under the name Ian Pierce. He was also a founding member of the punk band Screeching Weasel. His other book is a semi-factual telling of the history of the band.
In this one Pierson does something very, very brave. He takes the character of the angel from the classic movie "It's A Wonderful Life" and does a little alternate history with his story. What if Clarence doesn't save George Bailey that cold and lonely night on the bridge in Bedford Falls? What would happen then?
From that beginning Pierson weaves a fascinating tale of the Bailey children, of Mary, of the vile old man Henry Potter and all the other characters that have become icons in our culture. My first reaction was one of shock but the movie is based on a much darker original short story ("The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern). Once you step into the world that Pierson creates you are rewarded with some solid writing and story telling. Things are tough for the children who must deal with abandonment issues especially Zuzu. Potter eventually is taken down but many of George's family and friends will fall along the way as well. And through it all wanders Clarence. Ejected from heaven for his failure he wanders the world wondering if he had done the right thing and occasionally bumping into people from Bedford Falls.
Clarence is confronted at the critical moment by another angel who questions if saving Bailey is the best thing to do. Consistent with the movie Clarence isn't too bright and let's himself be argued into not fulfilling his task. It's a fascinating concept but it also leads to my greatest disappointment with the book. The ending is very unsatisfying for me. We never discover who the angel is or what exactly went on in that moment. Plus the end includes five excerpts from conversations that are just left dangling. We aren't told who is involved (I guess it's assumed we'll figure it out but I only came up with ideas for three) and they don't seem to resolve anything.
After such a wonderful job working with his characters (he creates a story for a character who only appears in the background of the movie. Potter's bodyguard is always there behind the chair of the venal old man. Pierson creates a story for him but curiously uses the name of the actor who played him, Frank Hagney, as the characters name as well. No idea why, would love to hear an explanation. Particularly since Hagney is portrayed as a very bad man) to be left with such an inconclusive ending strikes me as very sad. This is a fascinating and well written effort. To fall at the final hurdle is a let down.
I snagged this while it was being offered for free, I see it's back up to $9.99. Not sure I can recommend it at that price. Otherwise well worth your time.
Rating - *** Worth A Look