Before the Great War, Byron Aldridge had led a charmed life as heir apparent to a Pennsylvania timber empire, and as guide and idol to his younger brother. But he returned from France a different man, drifting away and finally disappearing altogether, until he is discovered working as a constable in a remote Louisiana sawmill. Here, surrounded by ...
Before the Great War, Byron Aldridge had led a charmed life as heir apparent to a Pennsylvania timber empire, and as guide and idol to his younger brother. But he returned from France a different man, drifting away and finally disappearing altogether, until he is discovered working as a constable in a remote Louisiana sawmill. Here, surrounded by cypress swamps and snakes and alligators, men lead lives of backbreaking toil punctuated only by the brutal entertainments offered by the Sicilians who control the whiskey and card games and girls, and by the rough law meted out by Byron. His brother, assuming charge of the mill, struggles to understand him, even as their wives contend with their own hopes and disappointments, and the future grows fearsome for them all. "The Clearing" is a story of family, of what sustains people through loss, of establishing a community in the deepest wilderness and then defending it. Palpably atmospheric, with a remarkable range of characters and emotions, it displays Tim Gautreaux's masterly understanding of time, place, and human nature.
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Publishers Weekly, 2003-05-26 A godforsaken mill town in the cypress swamps of Louisiana is the setting for a bitter power struggle in this darkly lyrical, densely packed second novel by Gautreaux (The Next Step in the Dance). In 1923, Raymond Aldridge sets out for the mill town-called Nimbus-in search of his brother, Byron. The two men are the heirs to a Pennsylvania timber empire, but ever since Byron came back from World War I, he has shunned his family. Before the war, he was a charming young man with a charmed life; now he works as a constable at the Nimbus mill and listens obsessively to sentimental popular tunes on his Victrola. When Raymond arrives, he assumes charge of the mill, which his father has purchased, and tries to understand how and why his much-admired older brother has come to this pass. Their reacquaintance is complicated by Byron's feud with a gang of Sicilians who control the liquor, girls and card games that make up the only viable entertainment in town. In battling them, Byron has turned as ruthless as they, and killings are as common as alligator sightings in Nimbus. The violence turns even deadlier when three women are mixed up in the fray: Raymond's feisty wife, Lillian; Byron's sturdy wife, Ella; and May, Raymond's almost-white housekeeper, who gives birth to a son who looks remarkably like an Aldridge. Gautreaux's prose is gorgeous, though his virtuosic images ("a nearly blind horse... its eyes the color of a sun-clouded beer bottle") sometimes pile up precariously, threatening to teeter into overkill. The novel adroitly evokes the murky miasma and shadowy half-light of the treacherous Louisiana swamps, their gloom and murderous undercurrents echoing the grisly wartime slaughter Byron is unable to forget. Gautreaux is perhaps the most talented writer to come out of the South in recent years, and this all-enveloping novel further confirms his skill and powers. Agent, Peter Matson. (June 24) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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