The One That Got Away
Page Publishing, 2019
Set in early 90s St. Louis, Clint Hofer has written a love letter to the city with The One That Got Away. However, it’s anything but your typical love letter. Hofer presents us with a menagerie of quirky characters serving his story’s need to impart to readers not just the history of the city but convey its living tone.
Our heroine, Terri Zimmerman busts into Dinty Smith’s Stag Club bar in the middle of day on the eve of the Great Mississippi River Flood to drink away her anger at being dumped by her boyfriend because she’s pregnant. Auspicious start, not so much. Readers are given a back-and-forth between Dinty and Terri that’s a perfect imitation of ordinary people attempting to pantomime the banter seen in crime noir films. Here is where we first encounter the clue Hofer isn’t providing readers with a drama. His novel isn’t a tragedy or one that takes itself overly serious.
While Hofer may call his novel a comedy as it is filled with Dad Jokes galore, it reads more like a gleeful farce. Terri doesn’t just come to the Stag Club by happenstance; it was her childhood home when her parents owned it as Zimmerman Bakery. Across the street lived ‘the boy next door,’ Glen Wunsch, the heir of an all-but forgotten brewing empire. Glen strolls into the Stag Bar with his grandmother Anna Grosse on his arm, a woman lost her in high society past and now constantly bedecked in the royal color purple, and Terri and Glen reignite their youthful attraction.
As the action of the novel moves from the Stag Club to Glen’s mansion, we are treated to neo-Nazi decor and speakeasy-era passage ways to a cavern brewery where Glen employs the homeless to create his mildly potable beers. And yet, Terri finds herself falling for this man–perhaps more out of sense of nothing to lose or a grim desire to lose it all once and for all, it’s difficult to determine. From the mansion we proceed to the Belle of Calhoun, a newly christened riverboat casino named for Anna Grosse in her halcyon days. Here we are treated to a rich stew of ridiculousness as gamblers posture as high society while also intimating they’re riverboat credentials as though stepping out of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man or any Mark Twain novel.
It’s clear Hofer is delighting in his narrative and while the story itself is rather thin on substance, the mere cascade of characters is immensely entertaining. I had hoped the story was building to a sort of clean slate. By which I mean, I had hope the impeding flood would wash all these horrible people away leaving the city, the story, and Terri with a new beginning. This doesn’t quite come about but the flood is certainly apocalyptic resetting Terri’s state of mind and leading her down an unexpected path.
All in all, The One That Got Away confirms and confounds expectations. Hofer has an affection for St. Louis that rare in literature today. Few writers tie themselves to a locale so intimately and want to delve into the more obscure parts of its history. There are times Hofer gives us characters seemingly only to allow him to insert some historical trivia, but overall he’s crafted characters embodying aspect of the city both of its time and its past. His great gift is moving his story along to a narrow set of locations. Each setting is a character in its own right bringing out complicated and absurd traits in those inhabiting the place. As a comedic novel, The One That Got Away succeeds as it does as a send up of romance and local color. Readers won’t be disappointed by the antics and lunacy of the novel making it a pleasant diversion of a read.
About the Author
Clint Hofer has lived in St. Louis his entire life. He attended the University of Missouri at Columbia and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He loves the rich history of St. Louis and his writing reflects that. He also loves the outdoors and incorporated his love of nature into his novel. Also a baseball fan, Clint has for many years written about amateur baseball in the St. Louis area. He is connected with the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame and writes about the inductees. He jokingly states his name is short for Hall Of Famer. Clint himself played baseball at the Stag Athletic Club, hence using the name Stag Club for the fictional tavern in his novel.
The One That Got Away is Clint’s first book. The idea for the book came to him while driving by a deserted brewery in South St. Louis. He grew up learning about the rich brewing heritage in St. Louis, the beer capital of the U.S. because of Anheuser-Busch, and integrated this information into his novel. Although The One That Got Away is a comedy, Clint is actually a very serious person. Comedy writing is something that comes naturally to him. Comedy is a serious business!