The Clearing

Gautreaux, Tim

Published by Knopf, 2002
ISBN 10: 0375414746 / ISBN 13: 9780375414749
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1st printing With promotional postcard laid in Near Fine, very small poke mark about 3 inches down from the top by front spine 0.0. Bookseller Inventory #

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Synopsis: In the years before World War I, Byron Aldridge led a charmed life as the charismatic heir apparent to a Pennsylvania timber empire; and to his younger brother, Randolph, he was both guide and idol. But he returned from France a different man and was not home long before those festering memories sent him drifting from one settlement to another, working as a lawman, and then disappearing altogether.

Finally his family discovers him in a remote Louisiana mill town, promptly buys the property, and puts Randolph in charge of this place unlike any he has ever seen, where men are surrounded by cypress swamps and menace, leading lives of ceaseless, backbreaking toil punctuated only by the brutal entertainments provided by the Sicilians who control the whiskey and card games and girls, and by the rough justice meted out by the still-tormented Byron. Randolph struggles to understand him, and to regain his trust, even as their wives presently contend with their own hopes and disappointments and while the future grows uncertain yet fearsome all around them.

This is a story about family, about marriage, about what sustains people through loss; it is a reckoning of the sacrifices they must make in order to establish a community in the deepest wilderness, and to defend what is most precious to them. Palpably atmospheric, with a remarkable range of characters and emotions, The Clearing displays more powerfully than ever before Tim Gautreaux’s masterful understanding of time, place, and human nature.

Review: In Tim Gautreaux's first novel, The Next Step in the Dance, the author staked a literary claim to Louisiana bayou country. In his second novel, The Clearing, he colonizes that claim. The atmosphere of the novel is humid and snake-infested, a swamp alive with mosquitoes and hungry alligators, stinkbugs and stench, flooding and freezing alternately. The setting provides a fitting backdrop for the bare subsistence lives of the people who live there.

The time is 1923, the place a family-owned mill, and the people a motley collection made up of a manager from Pennsylvania, his brother the constable, poor white and black loggers, three women, Sicilians, and polyglot Cajuns. Byron, the constable, a golden boy before the war, eldest son and heir apparent to a timber fortune, returned from France a damaged man, no longer interested in family or future. He drifted away from home and lost contact. When the novel begins, he has been found in this Louisiana backwater and his brother, Randolph, is dispatched to manage the family mill until the cypress forest is cleared and to bring Byron home. What happens to them in this hermetically sealed redoubt is a story of intense and forgiving brotherly love, as Randolph struggles to reclaim Byron and to maintain decency against formidable odds. They must deal with the Sicilians who own the gambling, liquor and women and will do anything to hang onto this franchise; the loggers who work and fight in equal part; and each other, not as the boys they were, but as the men they are.

You might learn more about old-time logging than you ever wanted to know, but the story is as compelling as Cold Mountain or All the Pretty Horses and just as well written. --Valerie Ryan

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Clearing
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: 1st Edition.

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