"In his first novel, Clausen tells the gripping story of psychological traumas that lead a soldier to volunteer for the dirtiest work in Vietnam. Billy’s job in Vietnam calls for him to dive headfirst into the dark, snake-infested tunnels that the Vietcong use to execute sneak attacks on unsuspecting U.S. soldiers."– Kirkus Reviews
A series opener delivers a tale of gold fever and destiny in the Old West.
Like so many others, John Valory heads to the Sierra Nevada in the early 1850s because of the California Gold Rush. He brings his family, including Magya, his Russian wife; his 17-year-old son, Petr John (Magya claims that “the Valorys were so poor they couldn’t afford ink for the second ‘e’ in Petr’s name”); and his 8-year-old daughter, Annabel Rochele. But the Valorys didn’t come to pan for gold; John and his son are lumbermen, harvesting trees to construct flumes and other wooden structures for an organized group of miners led by Dain King. Two major events threaten the survival of the Valorys: a tragic family secret John and Magya share with King and Petr’s discovery of a mother lode of gold buried in a lake. Annabel follows her beloved brother to the lake and gets lost. In Petr’s tireless journey to find his sister, he discovers truths about himself and his past lives. Throughout her ordeal, Annabel also takes strength from a former life and in the transcendent love she has for Petr. In this novel, the first of four volumes, Clausen (The Black Butterfly Woman, 2013, etc.) adds elements of ancient Egyptian theology, Native American and Norse mythology, Scottish folklore, and a sprinkle of Nazi ideology to his allegorical tale. Though most of the characters are carefully fleshed out, King is a Hitler-esque villain, almost too bad to be true. The writing is muscular, rich with Native American nature symbols and vivid descriptions of the setting. Brisk pacing and multiple well-balanced plotlines keep the narrative moving despite an overreliance on foreshadowing. The mystical book is clearly well-researched and includes a trove of relevant historical facts and anecdotes. But this is not a G-rated Western: rape, murder, and torture are both alluded to and graphically depicted, and sometimes the victims are children.
An unusual gold-rush novel and atypical Western offers a hero’s journey with plenty of action and savagery incongruously spiked with a glittering vein of symbols and stories drawn from diverse myths.
In his first novel, Clausen tells the gripping story of psychological traumas that lead a soldier to volunteer for the dirtiest work in Vietnam.
To create the fully realized Billy Bascom, Clausen masterfully weaves together two primary narratives, one a gruesome picture of war and the other an equally gruesome picture of a painful childhood. Billy’s job in Vietnam calls for him to dive headfirst into the dark, snake-infested tunnels that the Vietcong use to execute sneak attacks on unsuspecting U.S. soldiers. It takes a touch of insanity to volunteer for such a task, so, as a way of explaining what leads Billy underground, Clausen leaps between passages that describe Billy’s exploration of the enemy tunnels and descriptions of his childhood. Growing up in Los Angeles, Billy was scrawny and quiet. He was mercilessly bullied by Nick and his gang as well as by his exhausted single mother. Over the course of Billy’s childhood, Nick nearly suffocates him in a bag, locks him in a refrigerator and eventually begins handing him off to a child molester in exchange for cigarettes and magazines. The series of scarring experiences, most perpetrated by Nick, drove Billy to volunteer for combat and venture to Vietnam to fight off the communists, whom he believes to be the ultimate bullies. This narrative is eventually shattered, however, when Billy meets a Berkeley-educated Vietnamese woman while doing covert work in the tunnels. The woman, whom Billy refers to as the Black Butterfly Woman, provides Billy with an alternative perspective of war. She and Billy fall in love but are torn apart by violence. Billy then returns home and is finally forced to confront the issues that sent him to Vietnam in the first place. In addition to the remarkable depth of character, the novel’s brisk pace makes for an engaging read.
Deftly written, this entertaining novel is both expansive and insightful.