PRAIRIE SON by Dennis M. Clausen


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The harrowing story of his father’s youth on the Minnesota prairie, from novelist Clausen (Ghost Lover, not reviewed). When Clausen’s father, Lloyd, died, he left (at his son’s request) a rough outline of his life. Clausen päre had mostly been absent during Clausen fils’s growing up; he was a cipher, though Dennis did know that Lloyd had had a rotten life as a child. So, using his father’s sketch as a starting point, and broadening the story with material gathered from historical societies and newspapers of the time (and his father’s few acquaintances), Clausen recreates his father’s young manhood. And a sorry story it is. The author tells, in his father’s voice, of being adopted by a farm family, not as a cherished member of the clan, but as cheap labor. Throughout the early years, he is ignored (when not being stropped) by his father and routinely tormented and physically abused by his mother. As a young boy, he summarized his life as “chores, beatings, long hours locked up in the cellar.” He takes solace in his dogs; feels confusion over the dark car that pulls up to the house when his father is out working in the fields; and is ineffably grateful for the small acts of kindness shown him by neighbors. The family’s hard luck is so rudely ever-present, it’s as though they are the target of some malicious force: harvests go bad, cream is contaminated, the mother’s affair is discovered (repeatedly), the hogs get cholera, the bank forecloses. Clausen lightens the tale with evocations of the rural landscape and with the rare sweet character’such as the Sanders brothers, who built windmills all day and played their violins at twilight. Sounding an authentic tone, the author steers clear of psychologizing, although his —knowing— innocence can aggravate. It’s almost impossible to finish this chronicle of classic wretchedness without feeling a sudden appreciation for all things decent in one’s life.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 0-922811-39-3
Page count: 256pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1998


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