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The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux

The Clearing (2003)

by Tim Gautreaux (Author)

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I had been avoiding reading this book as I was dreading it pulling me down as it didn't seem to be a happy novel. However, although generally lots of bad things happen, there is joy and happiness among the pages. The sense of place is the most powerful thing in this novel It is set in a logging camp in a Louisiana cypress swamp in the 1920s and I could feel the darkness of the forest, the dampness of the air and see the clouds of insects and the numerous snakes. The noises of the logging camp were also well described, the steam engines and axes and the quiet when the day's work had finished. As the forest is cleared, the stumps of trees that were left is well described and the light that starts to filter through the trees as the belt of trees around the camp gets smaller and smaller is fascinating.
In this remote forest clearing live Byron, the estranged brother of Randolph, who Tim Gautreaux often refers to as the Mill Manager. There is the saloon that is the place of fights and card cheats and there are the workers. The novel deals with the pain of Byron who fought in the first world war and his healing. ( )
1 vote Tifi | Sep 11, 2015 |
Can I give this book 10 stars? I love this book and it is my favorite novel. I've gifted it to several. The ability to evoke settings is Gautreaux's talent and it is in fine form in this book. My love for the area (Louisiana) may color my review but the book took me to the time and place quickly, without over-doing it. It allowed the reader, with a nudge, to arrive at the scene and understand the characters. Did I say I love this book? I think you will too. ( )
  CTyler | Sep 15, 2014 |

I picked this book up from the library because I had read an interview with Annie Proulx in which she stated that The Clearing was the best novel she’d read in ten years. I thought that was high praise coming from a talented writer such as Proulx, who I respect and whose writing I really enjoy. And, in fact, similarities exist between Gautreaux’s novel and some of Proulx’s work. Both authors raise physical place almost to the level of a living, breathing character through their intricate and vivid descriptions of the rural locations they use as settings. In The Clearing, the wildness and extreme weather of the southern Louisiana cypress swamp permeates every page. I felt the sticky humidity and saw the sun trickling weakly down through the forest canopy as I read, even as the employees of the Nimbus sawmill worked tirelessly to slowly strip the swamp of all its valuable lumber.

Much like two of Proulx’s characters, Quoyle in The Shipping News and Bob Dollar in That Old Ace in the Hole, Randolph Aldridge must also enter a small rural community that is alien to him and find a way to assimilate himself. Through often-painful experience, he learns to communicate with the inhabitants of the ramshackle community that has sprung up around the Nimbus mill. Aldridge comes to Nimbus ostensibly as an agent of his father, a prominent Pennsylvania lumber baron, who has bought the Nimbus mill for one purpose: to try to lure his long-lost son Byron home. Byron, whose psyche was severely damaged during World War I, is working as a constable at Nimbus. He spends his nights breaking up violent fights between desperate mill workers at the camp’s saloon, and his days drinking whiskey while listening to mournful songs on his Victrola.

As Randolph’s emotional investment in the Nimbus community deepens and he struggles in vain to reach his disturbed brother, both he and Byron become inextricably caught up in a deadly feud with the Sicilians who control the camp’s saloon. Gautreaux carefully blends the extremes of the seasons in the swamp into the plot so that time passes by with a natural flow, in keeping with the precise pacing of the story. His cast of unique and fascinating characters quickly lures the reader into the vibrant and desperate life of the strange community of Nimbus. And he reminds us in The Clearing that humanity often reveals both its warmest and its most ruthless traits when existing in the wildest untamed and insulated environments. ( )
1 vote S.D. | Apr 4, 2014 |
This novel was the first time I encountered Tim Gautreaux. I went on to read all his works. Among my favorite "re-reads". ( )
  wbwilburn5 | Jun 13, 2012 |
So far today (12/23/10) I'm pretty sure I'm missing something in this book. The "Will You Like" meter seemed more than certain that I would love this book. I agreed they made it sound like the next Annie Proulx's next book, but alas its missing something and I can't figure it out. I thought the more I read , the more I'll get it. Eventually it will end or I will end it. I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to just walk away. Maybe I'll keep the book for another try, we'll see.

(12/26/10) So I finished the chapter (pg 69-70) and decided to call it quits for now. I'm not getting the same reaction as the other reviewers and decided for now to set it and try it again later maybe. ( )
1 vote campingmomma | Dec 26, 2010 |
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At a flag stop in Louisiana, a big, yellow-haired man named Jules stepped off a day coach at a settlement of twelve houses and a shoebox station.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375414746, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:08 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Returning from the Great War a changed man, Byron Aldirdge drifts away from his privileged and charmed life to take a job as a constable in a remote Louisiana sawmill, while his younger brother, taking over management of the mill, struggles to understand him, in an atmospheric novel of the family, justice and obligation.… (more)

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