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August 2020: Other Books > [Poll Ballot] The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux - 5 stars

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Joy D | 4184 comments The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux - 5 stars - My Review

In the 1920’s during Prohibition, protagonist Randolph Aldridge, son of a Pennsylvania lumber baron, travels to Louisiana to find his elder brother, Byron, and manage one of his father’s sawmills. Randolph takes the train to Nimbus, an isolated logging town, where Byron functions as the arm of the law. Byron is estranged from his family after returning from his service in WWI, where he has suffered psychological trauma. The sawmill hands work hard, drink hard, and fight hard, often leading to violent confrontations. A mafia boss controls the local saloon and brothels, which adds to the violence.

The setting is vividly described. The writing is atmospheric and evokes a strong sense of the Louisiana swamps. The characters are particularly well-drawn. The relationship between the brothers is key. Byron has withdrawn to the edges of civilization and Randolph wants to help him reconnect with life. During his melancholy moods, Byron plays a series of sad songs on the Victrola. Randolph cares deeply for his brother, eventually making a significant sacrifice. The supporting characters are believable and given enough backstory to picture them as part of this small remote community. Even the blind horse has a unique personality.

I particularly enjoyed the writing style in passages such as: “Ella appeared in the doorway and leaned against the frame, looking at her brother-in-law. After a while she placed a finger below a dry blue eye. At first Randolph didn’t understand, but then he turned and saw that Byron was crying, his lips formed carefully around each note of the song issuing thin and one-dimensional from the mahogany cabinet. Randolph sat as still as wood, his lips parted, his disbelieving breath coming lightly between his lips. Out in the mill yard, rain began to fall, and the house shook as the blind horse bumped its head against the porch post.”

This book strikes a satisfying balance between character and plot. It is dark and violent but contains offsetting elements of decency and redemption. It features many voices, such as the northern outsiders, Cajuns, Creoles, African Americans, and Italians. It gets the reader thinking about how violence impacts people and nature. I am impressed by the author’s craftsmanship.

message 2: by Joy D (last edited Aug 28, 2020 04:56PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy D | 4184 comments I wanted to add that this book also fits the "psychological" tag for next month in case anyone is interested.

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