Clio Rising by Paula MartinacClio Rising by Paula Martinac is a lesbian literary drama that’s filled with the sights, sounds and textures of 1980s New York City.

Clio Rising opens in 2014, 30 years after the death of Clio Hartt, who was one of the great literary geniuses of the modernist era, and contemporary of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and the like. A professor is writing a biography of the reclusive Miss Hartt and is reaching out to Livvie Bliss to learn more. Most of the rest of the book takes us through the last six months of Clio Hartt’s life, as seen through Livvie’s eyes.

Having recently moved to New York City from North Carolina, Livvie gets a job as an assistant to Bea Winston, revered literary agent. She quickly learns it entails more than just the coffee and copy-making she’d first anticipated when Bea tasks Livvie with checking in on the reclusive, mercurial Miss Hartt.

Clio is approaching ninety and while her book, The Dismantled, is still hailed for its brilliance half a century after it was first published, it’s also the only book she ever produced. Bea is hoping there might be another book in her, however, and recognizes that the butch Livvie looks a lot like Clio’s former lover Flora Haynes. It also doesn’t hurt that Clio grew up in North Carolina too, so Livvie can bring a touch of home with her when she visits.

The plan seems to be a good one, because it isn’t too long before Clio starts writing again. And while Livvie tries to coax that elusive book out of her, we also see Livvie making friends with local lesbians in a book club, falling in and out of lust, and even being brought up close and personal with the AIDS crisis.

Everything changes for Livvie again at the end of Clio’s life when Clio trusts Livvie with something explosive. A secret that can only be trusted to someone who can take “a longer view” rather than making any hasty actions…

The Characters

The characters are all vividly drawn and we see them exclusively through Livvie’s eyes, which is part of what makes Clio Rising a story that’s difficult to put down. Livvie’s surrounded by people who are larger than life and we see her learn how to navigate relationships with them, whether as family of choice, colleagues, or even romantic partners.

The Writing Style

Overall, Clio Rising more character driven than plot driven, and that works well because we watch Livvie come into her own in New York City and get caught up in everything that is Clio. While I wouldn’t call it fast paced, Livvie’s thoughts and reactions make for some damn compelling reading, and Martinac delivers an experience that no other author could pull off in quite the same way.

The Pros

Everything worked for me.

The Cons

I don’t have anything.

The Conclusion

Readers who enjoy literary fiction are sure to love Clio Rising, and if you’ve never read that kind of thing before, I’d urge you to at least check out a sample (like… say… the excerpt below!). The writing is crisp, the characters memorable, and overall it’s an excellent book.

Excerpt from Clio Rising by Paula Martinac

“Are you okay, Miss Hartt?” I offered her an arm to lean on, and we made our way to the armchair one step at a time. It was unclear if she really couldn’t manage on her own or if she was putting on a good show for the help.

“I will be fine presently, Miss Bliss. In forty years, I have never had occasion to be visited by the police, and if that is what ‘New York’s Finest’ is like, this city’s in a heap of trouble.” She sank onto the chair cushion with an appreciative sigh and went all good-natured on me. In fact, she was so pleasant when I offered to brew her a pot of coffee before I returned to work— “You are just as delightful as your name, Miss Bliss!”— I thought the reports of her orneriness must be overblown. Maybe, like my Meemaw, she was sweet as tea most of the time, a harpy only when her arthritis flared up.

But as I settled her in with her coffee, the other Clio trickled out. “This cup has a chip,” she said, turning it around. She took a sip and frowned. “And you’ve put in too much sugar.”

“Sorry about that. I’ll get it right after a few tries.”

“I am not here for you to experiment on, Miss Bliss. I like it the way I like it.”

The flash of pique caught me off-guard. Bea would want me to kowtow and bring her a fresh cup, but I noticed Clio taking big, appreciative gulps.

“And yet you seem to be drinking it right down,” I said.

The moment could have gone badly for me as Clio stared me down with those otherworldly eyes. But she turned back to the cup and polished off her drink with a resounding slurp.

“Bring me another before you go, would you?”

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