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them to stop. A tall wave of surprised cursing broke over the room, and one of the fighters swung his razor at the man across from him. The concussion of the pistol’s second shot bent every back in the saloon and the worker fell dead, a bullet hole through the bandana on his forehead. Byron holstered the Colt automatic, walked over to where the mill hand was jerking facedown in the sawdust, and gathered a fistful of his triplestitched shirt, dragging him to the front door like an overloaded suitcase. Ironically, the title suggests an opening up, a cleansing or an extrication. But in Gautreaux’s “clearing”as in much of the naturalist traditionman, like a fossil embedded in permafrost, is held fast by circumstance, events, and human nature. For example, when Randolph worries over Byron’s capacity for casual killing, he recalls a grandfather who rode with Sherman and had a reputation for violence. He “could have passed on some flaw in the family bloodline, the ability to kill a man as if he were a fly biting an ear.” Violencethe ability of law-abiding, God-fearing individuals to turn against each other, is a primary concern here, and an undercurrent of violence permeates some of the novel’s most dramatic scenes. Many take place on the battlefield. In that respect, they evoke Goya’s grim etchings of carnage and the writing of Stephen Crane and Erich Maria Remarque: “At Verdun, the rifle fire was like many pieces of silk ripping and ripping without end…” Or take Byron’s blood-curdling description of his war injury: “What they cut out of my back was five of Walter Liddy’s teeth.” \(This last summons images of a war where But, as the author makes clear, violence is not restricted to wartime. When the conflict between the Sicilians and the mill owners escalates, the lines between battlefield and saw mill blur. Nimbus becomes a war zone, and in the end, the mill and the war destroy both the individual and his environment. Byron sums it up by saying that the clearing “looks just like France when I left it.” And where does the responsibility lie? With each of us, the author suggests, although man may find redemption through repentance and sacrifice. \(Thus, the word “clearing” in the title, Percy and Flannery O’Connor, Catholic writers from the South to whom he has been compared, Gautreaux raises profound questions about faith and religious doctrine and the possibility of finding meaning and absolution in an apparently meaningless world: “[he] wondered if he would be punished by Like Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor, Gautreaux raises profound questions about faith and religious doctrine and the possibility of finding meaning in an apparently meaningless world. God for the deaths he caused or if the killing itself was the punishment.” Yet despite its profundity, The Clearing is far from solemn. Gautreaux’s irreverence and outrageousness will make you laugh out loud: An immobilized victim urinates on a stick of dynamite, drenching the fuse and averting an explosion; a corpse becomes the only legitimate witness to a legal proceeding; a would-be assassin spares his victim and bursts out singing La donna e mobile…because, or so he claims, he’s discovered that “Italian is good for more than selling whores.” Such humor hearkens back to the frontier tradition and is reminiscent of the tall tale and of Mark Twain at his sidesplitting best. Like Twain, Gautreaux has a keen ear for dialoguein particular for Cajun and Afro-American speech patternsa strong descriptive voice, and a masterly command of the language. In his depiction of the lumber industry and the workings of a saw mill, Gautreaux uses sturdy utilitarian words that capture the essence of a country catapulted into industrialization, words like “rheostat,” “knifeblade switches,” “piston rods,” “Pittman shafts,” “poppet valve levers,” “kiln-dried,” and “stob.” They add verisimilitude and a crude beauty of their own and reflect an enormous amount of research on the writer’s part. \(In addition, Gautreaux investigated living conditions in southern Louisiana during the 1920s, the law Yet alongside its technological knowhow and historic insights, The Clearing is suffused with a lyrical beauty verging on the poetic and a wildly imaginative use of language and metaphor. One of the most compelling images in the novel is that of a blind horse with no name. During the day and within the confines of the camp, it cautiously makes its way over spongy terrain by following the sound of the planer. But at night it is baffled by the silence. In spite of several close calls, the only living creature that remains when the saw mill shuts down is the horse. Unlike man, it possesses the animal’s gut instinct, essential for survival: The animal had listened to everything coming apart and knew what was happening, that the human world was a temporary thing, a piece of junk that used up the earth and then was consumed itself by the world it tried to destroy. We can only hope that Gautreaux’s apocalyptic vision of the material world, the “human world,” will not apply to man’s creative drive nor to his contributions in science, art, music and, of course, literature. But I tend to believe that regardless of what the future brings, a book as significant as this one will endure. Diana Anhalt is a poet and writer in Mexico City. She is the author of A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 1011W03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25