Set in a harsh landscape that engenders raw emotions, this gritty tale is by turns wise, violent, and compassionate ... a darkly atmospheric novel that explores the evil done unto men and the evil they in turn do to others.
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.
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. He was the only passenger to get off, and as soon as his right foot touched the cinder apron of the depot, the conductor pulled the step stool from under his left heel, the air brakes gasped, and the train moved in a clanking jerk of couplers.
Remembering his instructions, he walked south down a weedy spur track and found a geared steam locomotive coupled to a crew car and five empty flats. The engineer leaned out from his cab window. "You the evaluatin' man?"
Jules put down his bag, glanced up at the engineer and then around him at the big timber rising from oil-dark water. "Well, ain't you informed. I guess you got a newspaper back in these weeds or maybe a sawmill radio station?"
The engineer looked as though all unnecessary meat had been cooked off of him by the heat of his engine. "The news goes from ...
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