Aaron Philip Clarke has a compelling narrative voice that draws you straight into a character who is both a remarkable and unusual protagonist in Paul Little. “A Healthy Fear Of Man” follows on from the author’s debut novel “The Science of Paul” and begins with Paul, an ex-convict starting a new life on his deceased grandfather’s estate in North Carolina. He is exiled, challenging his physical boundaries, and comprehension of what his reality is made up of. His peace is disturbed when he unearths a dark secret. This is brought about through his meeting with Gilly Catlett, and Fellstone, a former sheriff.
“A Healthy Fear Of Man” is an intense and highly descriptive study of small town America, of its secrets and lies, its prejudices and racism. Clarke narrates the story adeptly through his central character. One of the key strengths of Clarke’s writing is his ability to tale a morally compromised character and show human traits that allow the reader to sympathise with him.
The fictional county the novel is set in is corrupt and facing bankruptcy. In many ways the style and strength of the writing reminded me of Faulkner or Erskine Caldwell at times, and the narrative contains many layers of characterisation. Paul’s life in Pharris becomes harder as he becomes involved in its disease. Clarke has written a morally complex and astute study of the hypocrisies that riddle Americana. He has dramatised the struggles that remain relevant today through a character who seems, despite his best intentions, to get caught up in struggle.
If you want to read a novel about justice and the lack of it, about racism and peoples’ need for prejudice, a novel with a great protagonist and full of excellent descriptive prose, read this. I highly recommend it.