REMEMBER BEN CLAYTON by Stephen Harrigan


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A Texas rancher wants to commemorate his son, killed in World War I, by commissioning a statue, but we discover this public act covers up a failed relationship.

Sculptor Francis “Gil” Gilheaney has had a checkered career. He moved to San Antonio shortly after completing a work honoring the heroes of the Alamo, but one of his recent works, The Pawnee Scout, has been destroyed by a drunken mob in Omaha. He’s intrigued by an offer that comes to him from Lamar Clayton, owner of a vast tract of Texas range. While Lamar doesn’t readily reveal his feelings, it’s clear he’s grieving for Ben, his only child, who died as a young soldier at St. Etienne on the Western Front. Gil takes the commission because of the challenge—and perhaps because at the age of 60 he has only one more great work in him. Accompanying him is his daughter Maureen, also a sculptor, now 32, unmarried and living in the shadow of her genius father. As Gil and Lamar get to know each other, hidden parts of their past begin to emerge. We learn, for example, that Lamar’s parents had been killed by Comanches on the frontier, and for two years Lamar had been raised by the tribe. He’s still suspicious of Jewell, his sister, whom the Comanches had sold to the Kiowa and who had tried to teach Ben “Indian ways,” especially before his sojourn to France. We further learn that when he was part of the tribe, Lamar participated in atrocities that Ben found out about. Gil feels that to make a masterpiece he has to come to “know” Ben, and he even goes to the cemetery in France where Ben is buried. Although tempted to give up the commission altogether, Gil finally decides to complete the work.

A heartening novel about art, war and the tug of family relationships.  

Pub Date: May 24th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-26581-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2011


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