Summary and book reviews of The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux

The Clearing

by Tim Gautreaux

The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux X
The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2003, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2004, 336 pages

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Book Summary

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.

Chapter One
1923

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book

The Clearing is set deep in the Louisiana swamp in 1923, in the isolated town of Nimbus, a place hard to get to and even harder to get out of alive. Nimbus is a raw place, filled with snakes, alligators, hard-fighting mill workers, and bountiful cypress trees. There is no church, no school, no civilizing influence of any kind. The saloon, run by the cousin of a Sicilian mobster from Chicago, is the only public institution, and it regularly erupts in drunken, murderous fights. Only brute force—in the shape of lawman Byron Aldridge—maintains a precarious order in the town. Byron is back from WWI, where the killing...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Los Angeles Times - Bernadette Murphy
Reading ...The Clearing, is like immersing yourself in a film during daylight hours, losing complete track of time ... you're unwilling and unready to resume your normal life. You don't want the story to end.

The New Yorker
... Gautreaux, like some Bayou Conrad, manages to combine verbal luxuriance and swift, brutal action to devastating effect.

USA Today - Bob Minzesheimer
There's a terrible beauty to the novel ...Gautreaux writes beautifully about terrible things, about war and life and death in a backwater timber mill in 1923.

Publishers Weekly - Peter Matson
Gautreaux's prose is gorgeous ... adroitly evokes the murky miasma and shadowy half-light of the treacherous Louisiana swamps.

Library Journal - Lawrence Rungren
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.

Kirkus Reviews
Almost overripe with swampy menace, but compelling and original.

Author Blurb Richard Russo
... presents the reader with an interesting dilemma do you give in to the stifling suspense and read quickly ... or do you go slow, savoring each delicious sentence, and thereby risking, by the climax, a nervous breakdown?

Author Blurb Howard Frank Mosher
Out of this heart of darkness comes a beautifully crafted story of two brothers and their incredible violent battle to preserve family love and human decency in a place gone haywire.

Author Blurb Jeffrey Lent
What makes this novel a modern masterpiece is ... the reader begins to comprehend the layers upon layers of American fable, myth, and parable contained within the pages.

Author Blurb Robert Olen Butler
I came to a rare and notable state of mind as a reader. Hereafter, ... when I think of Louisiana, I will hear the voice of Tim Gautreaux.

Author Blurb Kent Haruf
This dark story, told in the clearest prose, compels you forward like a handcar on a downhill slope, until the final escape.

Author Blurb Rick Bass
As a reader passes through the contagion of violence within this story, what is remembered are the tendrils of compassion and tenderness, small but enduring ... a unique and fascinating story.

Reader Reviews

john willis

This is an outstanding book.The sense of place is compelling.The actions is fast paced and very realistic,but the part i liked the best was the relationship between the 2 brothers.This was very touching and its hard to find a thriller like this with ...   Read More

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