Clementine was born somewhere in New Jersey in the summer of 2011, but soon made her way to New York. Then, in October 2012, the little hedgehog published her first book review on Tumblr: a caustic endorsement of Robin Sloan’s novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which she both praised — “I’ve never read a more timely book ...” — and ridiculed — “It’s Harry Potter for people with Android phones and Chrome bags ….”
Since then, Clementine’s Weekly Reading Series has chimed in on (or dutifully crushed) books by George Saunders, Zadie Smith, The RZA and many others. Along the way, Clem won accolades from author Emma Straub (“This is obviously my favorite review to date ….”), Tumblr #lit guru Rachel Fershleiser (“Tumblr book review series of the year?”) and publisher Riverhead Books (“We are putting in an immediate request for all our books to feature some sort of hedgehog activity.”).
But as suddenly as it had begun, Clementine’s Weekly Reading Series came to an end. Clem’s final review on Tumblr explained that she had come down with wobbly hedgehog syndrome, “the #1 killer of domesticated hedgehogs.” And so, with a few uncharacteristically sentimental words about Rosie Schaap’s Drinking with Men, Clementine bid us adieu.
Or so we thought. In her farewell note, Clem hinted at having “one last surprise for you assholes, so stay tuned,” and we now know what that is: a fully annotated version of Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. This Clementine Classics take on the novel includes Clem’s own insights into and jabs at the original text (“God bless old-timey folks. They got shits and giggles from the sound of tinkling bells, while we're out here injecting heroin into our eyeballs just to feel something.”), allowing the literary hedgehog to rip on turn-of-the-20th-century America and, perhaps more importantly, to live on in our hearts.
But even more surprising: Clem’s still alive! We recently spoke with her about Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser and her “spirit human.” (We didn’t ask about the weekly reading series or wobbly hedgehog syndrome out of fear of being quilled.) Here are a few highlights from the conversation:
Arvind Dilawar: Of all the books to mop up, why Sister Carrie? Why Theodore Dreiser?
Clementine the Hedgehog: I'm not a fan of serious literature, but I like to fake that I am. Sister Carrie is novel that disguises itself as serious lit, but when you get right down to it, it's just a Jackie Collins paperback with a helluva a plastic surgeon.
As for Theodore Dreiser, the man fancied himself to be the Great American Novelist, so anyone with such lofty ambitions deserves to be quilled down a peg or two.
Have any lofty ambitions yourself?
Like most hedgehogs, all I want out of life is a warm snuggle sack, the occasional mealworm and a regularly emptied litter box. Anything more than that is just excessive — though I wouldn't mind it if my human upgraded my Hulu account.
What was your least favorite part of Sister Carrie? What are Dreiser's worst prose?
Too many to name on both accounts. The whole book is just a series of bad decisions, and like an episode of Bad Girls Club, I just couldn't look away. You don't have to be Harold fucking Bloom either to know that Dreiser and E.L. James had the same writing professor. But at least E.L. James had whips and ball gags — two things that would've greatly improved Sister Carrie.
If you had to add one thing to Sister Carrie, what would it be? Whips or ball gags?
I would include a rift in the space-time continuum in which RuPaul would be transported to 1900 in order to sit down with Carrie and knock some fucking sense into the girl. RuPaul would instill the virtues of self-worth and independence, along with a few lessons on the importance of a good bitchface. Then she would sashay away back to the 21st century.
Theodore Dreiser: Hot or not?
By human standards, no. By hedgehog standards, fuck no.
Us humans sometimes claim to have spirit animals. Who is your spirit human?
My spirit animal is Stevie Nicks, circa 1981, when everyone thought she was literally a witch and had hexed Lindsey Buckingham. I'd like to have the same ability to simultaneously terrify and enchant people. Also, bitch had great hair.
What's your favorite Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac song?
"Gold Dust Woman," obviously. I may not have (easy) access to cocaine or a silver spoon with which to dig my grave, but I have the same feelings of vengeance, spite and shattered illusions of love. Most humans will never understand the plight of the domesticated hedgehog — you're all too pampered and shallow — but Stevie, man. Stevie comes pretty damn close.
Clementine Classics: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser is out now from Black Balloon Publishing. You can read an excerpt from the annotated novel right here on The Airship, and you can follow Clementine on Twitter: @ClemClassics
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