The Clearing

The Clearing

by Tim Gautreaux

The story of a murderous battle for control, and a wise, compassionate investigation into the bonds of love and family and of what sustains people through loss.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 3.92
  • Pages: 384
  • Publish Date: 2004 by Sceptre
  • Isbn10: 0340828900
  • Isbn13: 9780340828908

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Sent on a mission by his father, Randolph, or Rando, is assigned two rather hefty tasks that of turning around a failing lumber mill and that of convincing the mills constable, who happens to be his brother, to return home to Pittsburgh and the family business. Then hed gone off to the war, coming back neither elated nor somber but with the haunted expression of a poisoned dog, unable to touch anyone or speak for more than a few seconds without turning slowly to look over his shoulder." The mill settlement camp itself is consumed by a number of dangerous elements those of the menacing reptilian variety as well as an assortment of violent men, not the least of which includes Buzetti, an infamous local mafia figure. Besides the brothers and Buzetti, there a number of other characters that come to life in between the pages of this book.

Jem Poster, The Guardian In a literal and figurative sense Tim Gautreauxs book is a journey tale. In the 1920s, two brothers from Pennsylvania travel to the Nimbus lumber mill in the cypress swampland of Louisiana; one by the most direct route possible and the other by way of Kansas and points west. One is a WWI veteran who, suffering from what in that day was called shell shock, is trying to escape his past, while the other attempts to learn about that past in an effort to help his brother deal with his demons, but in the process learns some lessons and reaches some conclusions about himself that he would have never realized had he not journeyed to Nimbus.

Like "the many fanged geography" of the swamp, for one. The characters and setting are so well portrayed that you literally feel like you live with them. A lot of things, people from different parts of the U.S., from different countries, different ages and philosophies, good and evil, nature, progress, all these things come together to make one hell of a novel from an author I was not familiar with until now.

This gorgeous, somewhat brutal story is about two adult brothers from Pittsburgh who together end up in a south Louisiana cypress forest. We live in south Louisiana on the edge of the wetlands, so obviously the setting of this book and the dialect of our Cajun population was as familiar as the voice of the man we buy shrimp from. Beyond our wetlands, though, there is a universality in the deep bonds between brothers across this world that transcends time and place.

At the end of the story the principal characters, brothers Byron and Randolph, energetically ("grimacing or grinning, who could tell") pump a railroad handcar away from the cleared mill site toward what they would have and what would have them. But when I got to page 98, I knew one of the things the book was about: war is a business, a deadly business. Now and then, in the long nights Mervilles life replayed like a wrongly spliced silent film, an overlong saga that always ended with his sitting in this water-stained office, or sometimes in the empty house two blocks away. War makes men into killers. The Clearing is about men who have learned to be violent killers even in the absence of a war. There is too much of a feel-good ending considering all the tragic events of the book.

Cottonmouth snakes and alligators and mosquitoes that cover men like second skins, but nothing is as frightening or dangerous as the human element that stalks the swamps with guns and knives and lead pipes. The two brothers who form the nucleus of this novel, Randolph and Byron Aldridge, are often in over their heads, trying to deal with lawlessness, personal vendetta, and immorality.

I think being from Louisiana helped me enjoy this book, as well as the several themes that the book handles so well; but I was still surprised at how much I enjoyed this story of two brothers running a 1920s sawmill community in a cypress swamp on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

The author is so detailed with his descriptions of the land and the lumber camp that when the characters leave you feel homesick. Some may think, give it a rest but this detailing made me feel even more connected to the time and place.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

His novel The Clearing won the 1999 Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance SIBA Book Award and the 2003 Mid-South Independent Booksellers Association Award. In addition, Gautreaux has made clear that he is not interested in being classified as a "Southern writer," preferring instead to say that he is a "writer who happens to live in the South." He is much more comfortable embracing his Roman Catholicism, saying, "I've always been a Roman Catholic, since baptism, since birth."