Study Guide

Charlie Lee in One Whole and Perfect Day

By Judith Clarke

Charlie Lee

Clara's dad, Charlie, spends most of this book not being the easiest guy for Clara and Rose to live with. He's cold, distant, and militant, causing both his wife and daughter to feel at odds with him. Rose uses Charlie's difficult childhood to explain his demeanor to Clara—he was born when his parents were in their mid-forties, and as a result of the age gap between them, "His parents never really understood him" (18.12). Hmm…

Okay. We can kind of get Rose's point. But still, we can't deny that Charlie's sort of a jerk. He is "often sulky and silent in speech" (18.42), "goes over the forks" (22.7) after Rose does the dishes to make sure they're spotless, and actually disowns his daughter because of her thesis topic. Not only that, but when he sees Clara kissing Lonnie when they sneak over to spy on him at his workplace, he prejudges her by thinking she left home so she could mess around with guys. His parents might have been older, but he's still pretty hard to like.

Hang on a minute, though. Being a tax accountant, Charlie's used to order, so much to the point where he seems to enforce his strictly organized work environment at home. In fact, he deals with stress by imagining an idealized version of his workplace: "He pictured his office, neat and orderly, a row of perfect clients waiting on chairs outside his door" (42.47). Perhaps because of his upbringing, Charlie's used to having everything a certain way, and his daughter leaving home kind of puts a giant hole in his usually "orderly" life.

Clara's departure and sudden engagement to Lonnie cause Charlie to rethink his relationship with his daughter. While he eventually follows Rose to Katoomba to meet Lonnie's family, it isn't until he meets Lucy, the deaf-mute girl on the train, that he regains compassion for Clara and truly desires to start over with her. He might not be particularly likeable, but we know this: Underneath it all, Charlie loves his family; he just has a peculiar way of showing it.