This first novel by John Micaud is certainly packed with family and their place and life details. The chapters nicely alternate between the two main characters of the title, Clara and Tito, former lovers set on a path to rendezvous.
When Tito Loved Clara also alternates between three settings: The Dominican Republic where Clara was born; the Inwood neighborhood of upper Manhattan, where she was raised and met Tito; and her current residence in Washington Heights, New Jersey. In fact the opening chapters read somewhat like the reality show “Jersey Shores” with raucous characters fighting and flaunting their “stuff,” and descriptions and dialogue that feels rushed, thus challenging the reader to care.
Only Clara and Tito emerge as likable, and it’s ultimately their heartbreaking story that captures us.
Though the book takes place in a few months, it is full of huge flashbacks over 15 years—again challenging the reader to follow and identify with its main characters. It’s a loosely woven fabric, and the empathy is often challenged by the novel’s frequent shifting.
When Tito Loved Clara is also full of lifelike characters in the two main families plus their in-laws and friends. There is good humor here; vivid descriptions of apartments, food, clothes; and often touching scenes as our main characters struggle to care about each other and their own lives.
Here, Clara retrieves a burger from McDonald’s for her pregnant niece Deysi: “She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten a Big Mac. Years. During the second pregnancy—the lost baby—the food of choice had been gazpacho and spring rolls. Maybe McDonald’s made stronger babies, she thought and felt the absence as she did from time to time, of the other living organisms within her, a kind of physical déjà vu. Deysi’s child was going to need every advantage it could get and she was going to do whatever she could to help.”
So there is also plenty of tension between characters and with their work, remembered love making, struggles with relationships and identity, and ultimately the suspense of wondering if Clara and Tito will ever reunite.
This is a hard worked and heartfelt novel, packed with strong characters and vivid scenes, and it foretells of more interesting material sure to come from this debut novelist.