Aprille Clarke is returning to her hometown of Ames to launch her debut novel, “The Case of Elena and All That Went Wrong,” at 6:30 pm Sunday at Dog-Eared Books.
Clarke’s book is a magical realism collection of interlocking short stories, which feature overlapping characters and share plot threads.
Clarke is a 1995 graduate of Ames High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish and her MFA in comparative literature-translation at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where she lives with her spouse and three kids.
As an undergraduate student studying Spanish, Clarke found herself reading Latin American short stories.
“It’s the foundation of magical realism as a genre, so that got me intrigued in that direction of magical and bizarre things happening in a quotidian context — a daily-life kind of world where strange things happen to people,” Clarke said.
Clarke combines this magical realism with overlapping short stories, a trend she became fond of while reading some American authors.
“I wanted to combine those influences and make a world of my own,” she said.
Each chapter in Clarke’s novel is titled to begin with the words “The Case of.” For example, the first chapter is “The Case of Clair, the Reverse Kangaroo.”
Clair is the mother of the title character, Elena. When Clair gets stressed out, time stops.
“It lets her work through her frustrations and emotions before the world turns back on. That’s something I’ve often wished I could do when things get overwhelming,” Clarke said. “It’s kind of a fantasy fulfillment of mine, I think. But it goes in some different directions in Clair’s case.”
The notion of a reverse kangaroo is a biological concept Clarke read about. When a tiny baby kangaroo first makes its way to its mother’s pouch, it can pause its gestation if circumstances are challenging, such as a wildfire, drought or lack of food.
“Clair is kind of a reverse kangaroo because she doesn’t stop her own development when things get bad, she stops everything else,” Clarke said.
Chapter two, “The Case of Jason, Who Flies Economy,” is about a man who is on a flight and finds something disturbing when he opens his tray table. Something the size of a five-subject notebook flops out, and he quickly realizes it’s a dehydrated man.
“He pours water into the man’s mouth, and he plumps up again and rehydrates,” Clarke said. “Jason learns this man has bought a super-discounted airfare, and it allows the airline to stack people like cargo. They didn’t get him in the cargo hold in time, so they stuck him in the tray table.
“The stories are all like that — people living normal lives but then strange things happen.”
Characters overlap between the stories. Some characters appear in more than one story or are referred to by other characters.
Clarke said she’s always found it rewarding to discover the overlaps between stories in other authors’ writing.
“It makes me feel like I’m a little detective and just solved this connection,” she said.
Book launch event is Sunday at Dog-Eared Books
Clarke said she’s excited to launch her book at Ames independent bookstore, Dog-Eared Books, which is located at 203 Main St. in Ames.
“The store feels like such a treasure to have here. It feels like a big-city bookstore in downtown Ames,” she said.
The book launch will include a reading by Clarke, a question-and-answer session and some hang-out time for autographs and chatting.
Having her first book event be held in Ames is special, Clarke said.
“It’s really cool, because Ames is a place where I got a lot of support in my earlier years. I had some excellent teachers in school who told me I was a writer and who believed in me,” she said.
Clarke offered special thanks to Kirk Dadow, a longtime English teacher at Ames High, who was also a faculty sponsor for the school’s literary magazine, Scratch Pad.
“It was a world that really did make me feel like I could achieve these dreams,” she said.