THE CLEARING by Tim Gautreaux


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Poisonous reptiles and pitiless Mafiosi menace a man trying to redeem his shell-shocked brother and re-craft a lumberyard in 1920s Louisiana.

Far from the pleasures of the Jazz Age and the comforts of his wealthy Pittsburgh home, straight-shooting Randolph Aldridge faces evil on a scale to match the worst of the world war that drove his older brother Byron round the bend. Louisiana native Gautreaux (Welding With Children, 1999, etc.) knows his bayous and uses them to bring high tension to this story of vicious crime and equally vicious punishment. After fleeing civilization for a life in the West, Byron has turned up as a constable on the family’s lumbering operation at the end of the creaky railroads east of New Orleans. Randolph, too young to have been in the war, follows his domineering father’s orders to take over the messy operation and bring Byron back into the fold, a tall order. The roughnecks felling the ancient trees are a brutal lot who spend their wages at a Mafia owned tavern, routinely razoring each other. Byron has managed to impose a sort of legal presence, but he himself is a boozer, haunted by slaughter of the Great War. Randolph imposes order on the operation, but makes little progress with Byron, and he quickly makes enemies of the tavern owners. The little comfort to be found in this hellhole come from Randolph’s nearly white housekeeper May, whose ticket out of the swamp is to be a white child, if she can just get pregnant by one of the brothers, and then from the arrival of Randolph’s wife Lillian, who shows surprising strength, learning to shoot cottonmouths and acquiring a taste for the local cuisine. As the virgin forest shrinks, the mob comes slithering through the undergrowth and the Aldridges must face them down with a tiny force of mill hands.

Almost overripe with swampy menace, but compelling and original.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-375-41474-6
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2003


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