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The Clearing
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Group Reads: Post-1980 > The Clearing: Final thoughts, February 2014

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Larry Bassett | 0 comments OK! So who are the strong women in this book and why do you think so?


Larry Bassett | 0 comments I am just beginning Chapter 9 and am still looking for evidence of strength in any of the female characters. Let me be so bold as to say that none of the female characters have been terribly significant through the first eight chapters. We have had the wife, the absent wife and the housekeeper/cook in the first third of the book. This is an overwhelmingly male society here in the swamp, not to mention on the battlefield.


message 3: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Laura | 1948 comments Mod
I think both wives are strong because they can actually handle the climate of the south that Lillian for sure is not used to in the north. They are surrounded by mostly men without families who are uneducated and have tendencies to get drunk and out of hand. They must deal with the fact that their husband has cheated with the house maid and has a son which neither one originally has when Walter is born. These are just a few thoughts but they handle it all with a lot of grace and humility and dont run home to the familiarity and the comforts of where they came from They make demands like bringing in family men, a school , church services and they embrace this son that's not their blood into the family.


message 4: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Laura | 1948 comments Mod
Oh Larry, I just read you're second comment. I think I've told you too much, please forgive!


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Laura wrote: "Oh Larry, I just read you're second comment. I think I've told you too much, please forgive!"

That's OK here, Laura! I am spoiling for a spoiler.


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Laura wrote: "I think both wives are strong because ... they handle it all with a lot of grace and humility."

I must admit that I don't think a woman who takes a lot of shit from a man is very high on the "strong character" scale! And a man who dishes out shit to women as a routine matter is even lower on the scale.


message 7: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3888 comments Mod
The wives strength grows as you get deeper into the book. I also thought May the housekeeper was a strong female character, she figured out a way to get pregnant by a white man so she could escape the racism of her surroundings. I also liked the Irish housekeeper who shows up later with her frying pan! Larry, are you saying that a woman can only be strong by acting like a man? Should they be openly defying their husbands and toting rifles? Remember the setting and the time period here. Quiet strength is the term that comes to mind. May and Lillian certainly made their opportunities and did what they could. Lillian's first show of strength was in simply showing up unannounced.


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Diane wrote: "Larry, are you saying that a woman can only be strong by acting like a man?"

I can see how you might think that, Diane. This morning I am wondering about the line between culture and character. There seems to be this message that somehow things are different in the South from the North. So a woman's behavior in the South would be different than in the North and would therefor be labeled as "strong" in a different way.

Randolph says of May, "...up North she would be a different person. To have a new life all she needed was a train ticket."

And what about: "Randolph thought of the code down here, that if he spoke first, it would give her permission." It does seem like the men are in charge. I do not think men should get to be in charge just because they are men. Right?

Now, I was born and raised in Michigan and lived good chunks of time in Massachusetts, Maryland and New York, but have now lived in the central Virginia Bible belt for ten years so I know a little bit about culture shock.

Just for the record, I don't think that "acting like a man" is good for a man OR a woman. The macho guys in this book are something else. Should they act like a woman? What does that mean anyway? I think a combination of "masculine" and "feminine" traits in the same person might be ideal; you know, the "my feminine side" idea. Thanks for helping me think about this, Diane. Maybe some others will join in!

I am also interested in how the "anti-war/anti-violence flavor" of this book develops.


Larry Bassett | 0 comments I am going to have to put Serena higher up on my TBR pile so I can compare her to the women in The Clearing. Is Serena the kind of woman who acts like a man that you mean, Diane?


message 10: by Cathy (last edited Feb 09, 2014 07:57AM) (new)

Cathy DuPont (cathydupont) Larry wrote: "Laura wrote: "I think both wives are strong because ... they handle it all with a lot of grace and humility."

I must admit that I don't think a woman who takes a lot of shit from a man is very hig..."


Great conversation, all.

Enjoyed reading the comments on these threads and some of the reviews. However, without benefit of reading this book, I kindly agree with Larry on this. Couldn't have said it better.

Again, many thanks for the great conversation I'm enjoying.


message 11: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3888 comments Mod
Larry wrote: "I am going to have to put Serena higher up on my TBR pile so I can compare her to the women in The Clearing. Is Serena the kind of woman who acts like a man that you mean, Diane?"

Serena is in a different category entirely, she takes evil to a whole new level. Psycopath is the word that comes to mind for her.

When Randolph thinks that he has to speak first to give May permission to speak, that is a reference to the black/white relationship, not the male/female relationship. May is considered a black woman even though she looks white because even 1 drop of black blood doomed her to being treated like one. That is why a train ticket up north would save her; no one would know her history there, and a child would give her respectability. My comments on the strength of these women characters is based on the context of this book. I in no way advocate that women should quietly accept being badly treated by men because they are an inferior sex. First of all, it's not true, secondly, modern women have options that did not exist in 1923. I am a strong woman who can support herself and be independent. My grandmother was a strong woman who had eight children and never left the town she was born in. Strength is born of character, not circumstances.


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Diane wrote: "Strength is born of character, not circumstances."

Thanks for the "speaking first" and "train ticket" elucidations. I hadn't picked up on those aspects. May does seem to be getting stronger as the pages move along, working on her goals. She does seem to have some amazing characteristics for a 22 yr old in 1923 in Louisiana.


message 13: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3888 comments Mod
Larry, the anti-war, anti-violence themes get stronger as the book goes on too. Is it wrong to kill at all, or do special circumstances make it okay? Like war, or killing someone to prevent him from killing others. This is a very multi-layered book, and I think that's the reason it seems to move slowly.


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Diane wrote: "Larry, the anti-war, anti-violence themes get stronger as the book goes on too."

I am halfway through the book at this point and enjoying it. Sometimes I have trouble getting through a "slow" book, but that does not seem to be a problem with this one. The short chapters are a benefit for me: I read one then go do something else for a while. And the discussion here is helping me keep my interest up.


Debbie Sweeney | 26 comments The reference to Annie Oakley was quite brilliant.


message 16: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Laura | 1948 comments Mod
I agree Serena was a strong female character but not in the same sense as the women in The Clearing. For example, how the wives handle the housekeepers son and how Serena handles her husbands son totally different. Also, how the wives handle the husbands betrayal is totally different then how Serena handles the betrayal of her husband (which wasn't sexual betrayal)


message 17: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Laura | 1948 comments Mod
What's your feelings on the Father and his role in all of the emotions the men are facing?


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Laura wrote: "What's your feelings on the Father and his role in all of the emotions the men are facing?"

Is it as simple as he is God the Father, the distant, the all-controlling, the source?


message 19: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3888 comments Mod
Interesting point, Larry. The father was of course the reason that Randolph was there in the first place, since he bought the mill just to send him to Louisiana to bring Byron back home. Byron was the prodigal son, but Randolph gained independence from his father by coping with everything at the mill on his own. But the father was still the puppeteer at the end, with both sons conforming to his wishes, though for reasons of their own.


message 20: by Laura, "The Tall Woman" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Laura | 1948 comments Mod
Maybe little Walter was symbolism of freedom from the father for both brothers bc in the end the father embraced Walt and said " I'd have known him anywhere on earth". The brothers finally were part of something the father played no role in and if I recall right, Randolph on several occasions thought that Walter was in the image of May. The father was full of preconceived notions including the war, Byron and even Walter.


message 21: by Beverly (last edited Feb 18, 2014 04:37AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Beverly | 190 comments Jim wrote: "I'm from East Texas, worked in Louisiana, and love that culture, but this book was like swimming through a gumbo swamp! Am I the only one who felt no emotional connection to any of the characters? ..."

I felt much the same way about this book. When I first noticed "The Mill Manager" identification, I had to go back and reread a few pages and actually found myself doing this at several times throughout the novel. It was a much slower read for me than I had anticipated. I thought I was losing my ability to focus for some reason. The story was interesting so I tentatively gave it four stars but am beginning to doubt my rating since I know I was not the only one to have these feelings.


message 22: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane Barnes | 3888 comments Mod
I loved his style of writing and the descriptions of the swamp just made me realize what these guys had to put up with. I will admit that the mill manager thing confused me at times, and I'd have to stop for a second and think. But overall I did feel a connection to the characters and their perseverence and determination and sense of responsibility.


Beverly | 190 comments Diane wrote: "I loved his style of writing and the descriptions of the swamp just made me realize what these guys had to put up with. I will admit that the mill manager thing confused me at times, and I'd have ..."

I agree with your comment that Gautreaux's writing style emphasizes what the people of the swamp had to endure. It's just that it usually does not take me this long to read a book of this length (except for Faulkner's) which made me think I was "losing it" at times. I have had several other things on my mind also which did not help such as selling my mom's house in NC while I am living in PA and trying to deal with these snow storms here (suppose to have a 2 hr delay for school and ended up being cancelled again!) so I'm sure all of this did not help my focus, either.


Beverly | 190 comments Jim wrote: "When I look at all the glowing endorsements by respected authors on the back cover and see the thoughtful comments made here, I sometimes ask myself, "Who the heck am I to be smacking down the work..."

That is why I gave it 4 stars; now I have it at 3 stars. I may change it back again. Just can't make up my mind on this one. I guess the fact it has made me think so much must make it a better read than I think it is.


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Since there are several new faces commenting here, I would like to ask them what they think of the "strong women" debate we had earlier.

The women did have pivotal roles and their characters did strengthen after what I thought was a slow start as mostly mothers and wives. I am interested in their moral character beyond being women in an extremely rough environment. They seemed to primarily function in relationship to the men and the situation rather than being their own selves with an independent destiny.

Since the backdrop of the story was the male war and the male mill town, this may not be a significant criticism. The author is mostly portraying a man's world. Is he a feminist?


message 26: by Peter (new) - rated it 1 star

Peter | 28 comments The Clearing was much more of a popular novel than I had anticipated - powered along by a remorseless series of dramatic incidents and populated by matchstick characters. Reminded me of a Hollywood B-movie. If you think about Dallas Hardin in The Long Home, a complex, well-observed, and entirely believable villain, and then look at Buzetti and Crouch in The Clearing, there's a world of difference. The Gautreaux villains are not much more than devices to keep the action going - and even Randolph and Byron are not a lot better. To answer Larry's question, the stick figures labelled women conform to the modern movie demand for feistiness and action - all guns and frying pans in this case. I suspect that in the real world any women unlucky enough to find themselves trapped in a Louisiana lumber camp in the 1920s simply endured the hard times, and not much more. Review at https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ...but I'm sure you catch the drift. The pity of it is that in an excess of zeal I bought a second Tim Gautreaux novel at the same time. You can't always win!


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Peter wrote: "The pity of it is that in an excess of zeal I bought a second Tim Gautreaux novel at the same time. You can't always win!"

If you would like to Media Mail me this book, I'd be glad to reimburse you ninety-nine cents plus $3.99 postage and handling! I like an occasional book with some frying pan fighting.


message 28: by Lawyer, "Moderator Emeritus" (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "The Clearing was much more of a popular novel than I had anticipated - powered along by a remorseless series of dramatic incidents and populated by matchstick characters. Reminded me of a Hollywood..."

I've completed my read and am beginning to work on my review. I'll be reading your review when I've completed mine. One note regarding your above post. Characters like Buzetti and Crouch were not unusual in the Bayous. Bootlegging and gambling were prime activities in Louisiana. Al Capone himself was known to visit St. Barnard in Plaquimines Parrish. The infamous Meraux family killed two deputies by running them over with their trucks loaded with bonded liquor. Gautreaux actually did a good deal of research in this area. Believe me, I'm not trying to start an argument here, but does a work being labeled popular prevent it from being an enjoyable read? I'm seriously interested in your thoughts. Meanwhile, I'll up Larry's offer by a Buck if it's a signed first. *grin*

Mike


message 29: by Peter (new) - rated it 1 star

Peter | 28 comments Mike wrote: " Characters like Buzetti and Crouch were not unusual in the Bayous. Bootlegging and gambling were prime activities in Louisiana. Al Capone himself was known to visit St. Barnard in Plaquimines Parrish. The infamous Meraux family killed two deputies by running them over with their trucks loaded with bonded liquor. Gautreaux actually did a good deal of research in this area."

I'm sure the research was thorough, and indeed I did give the book credit for being "well-researched" in my review, but - like Jim - my problem was what the author did (or rather didn't do) with his characters. Echoing Jim again, they are not rounded. Little more than stick figures with names attached.

Mea culpa. "Popular" was a bad choice of word. There are plenty of popular novels that are excellent by any standard. I should probably have said "commercial" or "aimed at the popular market", which is rather different. Not that I'm impugning Tim Gautreaux's motives - he may well write the way he does by choice and good luck to him. He is obviously very successful. The covers of my copy of The Clearing are liberally covered in praise from well-respected sources. But I still didn't think the book was much good!

Larry, if you can recommend any fictional favourites involving frying pan fighting, I'd like to read them. I can think of several novels that would have been markedly improved by a good pan fight...


Larry Bassett | 0 comments Peter wrote: "Larry, if you can recommend any fictional favourites involving frying pan fighting, I'd like to read them. I can think of several novels that would have been markedly improved by a good pan fight...
"


Peter, I forgot to put the little smiley face by that phrase! Frying pan fights are just not as common as careening car chases, it seems! But I think they should be as it would result in stronger female characters I am sure.

Sorry I won't be able to routinely read your reviews since when I clicked on the Follow Reviews button, I was informed that you don't accept followers at this time. My loss. But the offer for the spare Gautreaux book stands.


message 31: by Peter (new) - rated it 1 star

Peter | 28 comments Larry - news to me that I don't accept followers (makes me sound like some sort of cult leader!), but something about my profile setting was blocking it automatically. May work now.

I would happily send you the spare Gautreaux, but transatlantic postage would make it more than a bit expensive. And shipping a southern novel to the south would be like sending coals to Newcastle, or whatever the equivalent phrase is (oranges to Florida?).


message 32: by Larry (last edited Feb 20, 2014 10:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Larry Bassett | 0 comments Yes, Peter, you were set to the unfriendly "private" GR status. I am happy to see that changed though I should have known that you were "one of them" by the way you spelled favourites!


message 33: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 20, 2014 10:53AM) (new)

my bad i have a lot to say about the book but I have not warmed up yet. Once i warmed up , I will become more outgoing when it comes to talking about the group reads.


message 34: by John (new) - rated it 4 stars

John | 533 comments Larry and Peter. Them southern gals bring a whole new meaning to "pumping iron"


Larry Bassett | 0 comments John wrote: "Larry and Peter. Them southern gals bring a whole new meaning to "pumping iron""

I am currently reading The Heidi Chronicles . It brought a whole new meaning to the concept of strong gals, southern or otherwise.


message 36: by FrankH (last edited Feb 24, 2014 07:17PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

FrankH | 49 comments I'm in the Peter and Jim camp on this one. Glad they posted, as I thought I might be reading a different book than the other group members. I had such an opposing reaction to 'Same Place, Same Things', an earlier story collection from Gautreaux, which I plan to review shortly.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


William | 39 comments One of the things I liked most about the book was the title: The Clearing. It has so many meanings as the two main characters move closer and closer together. Action versus restraint. I've recommended this book to several people. I love that it doesn't have an answer.


Larry Bassett | 0 comments William wrote: "I love that it doesn't have an answer."

I thought that the answer at the end of the book was to move on to the next stand of timber. (And, by extension, the next war?) Business as usual for industries that chew up and spit out men.


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