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Remember Ben Clayton Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 24, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307265811
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307265814
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,026,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Guest Reviewer: William Broyles
William Broyles is the founding editor of Texas Monthly magazine, the screenwriter of Cast Away and eight other films, and the author of the Viet Nam memoir, Brothers in Arms.

A sculptor determined to find truth in art, a young man seeking redemption from the terrible wounds of war, a young woman searching for freedom and love, and a father struggling for forgiveness--these memorably-drawn characters leap off the page in Stephen Harrigan’s masterful novel Remember Ben Clayton.

Lamar Clayton is determined to build a memorial to his son, killed in a reckless charge in World War I. At first the commission seems straightforward, a way for ambitious sculptor Gil Gilheaney to leapfrog his New York peers and secure his artistic reputation. His daughter Maureen is his dutiful assistant, willing to sacrifice love and her own art to her father’s single-minded search for greatness. Lamar Clayton is a broken-hearted old man who wants only to honor his son Ben, a golden boy and gifted horseman.

But in Harrigan’s skillful hands nothing is so simple. Ben’s death turns out to be a compelling mystery that transforms the lives of each character, and brings to the surface lies told and lies lived. The truth hides behind the disfigured face of Ben’s wounded comrade, behind the tangled loyalties and brutal conflicts of the blood-soaked Texas frontier, behind the secrets Lamar and Gil both hide from their children.

I loved this book. I was mesmerized to discover whether the sins of the fathers would indeed be visited onto their children. Harrigan understands artists, cowboys, warriors and women; he brings them to life with unflinching but compassionate honesty. He writes about art and war with equal power and authority, but his portrayals of the small quiet decisions that form a life are just as powerful, and sometimes just as shocking, as the wrenching scenes of combat.

The riddle of Ben Clayton is a hypnotic mystery story, drawing the characters out of the their hiding places, forcing them to confront who they really are and what they really want. In Remember Ben Clayton, Harrigan unforgettably captures it all: loyalty and betrayal, the corrosive power of secrets held too tight, the mystery of art, the confusion of the battlefield, and above all the deeply human need to be valued and remembered.


"Mr. Harrigan is a confident dramatist, skillfully jumping from one point of view to another without disrupting the flow of the scenes. [And] by devising a novel about the art of memorialization, he has crafted a poignantly human monument to our history."—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

"A superior piece of storytelling, a historical novel, a Texas saga, an allegory of art and all the important issues it can raise, an onion of a book with many leathery layers to be unpeeled, eventually revealing our vast capacity to love, and to hurt the ones we love, and to forgive."—Steve Bennett, San Antonio Express

"It’s not too early to anoint Remember Ben Clayton as one of the best novels of 2011. . . . Skillfully composed, emotionally engaging, the story (set just after World War I ends) of a Texas rancher trying to reclaim his son by the commission of statue is alternately heartbreaking and uplifting. Like Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Harrigan magically re-creates a point in history while engaging readers with a mesmerizing story."—Rege Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“Stephen Harrigan ranks among the finest atmospheric novelists. [In his new novel],  set just a few years after World War I, he takes full advantage of the opportunity to conjure amazing scenes ranging from frontier Comanche raids to doomed Allied charges on German strongholds. …Yet atmospherics aren’t even the apex of Harrigan’s art. As with his previously lauded The Gates of the Alamo and Challenger Park, in Remember Ben Clayton the author is only using vividly re-created history as a framework for probing the complexities of human relationships. …
“Simply put, storytelling does not get any better than this.” —Jeff Guinn, Dallas Morning News
“A young Texan is killed World War I, and his stoically grieving father commissions a statue to honor him . . . but like the unforgiving bullets that pierce Clayton’s flesh, the story goes unflinchingly deeper into the human failings of fathers, the need for children to forgive and what it means to create art. …With Remember Ben Clayton, Harrigan has created art.” —Joe O’Connell, Austin American Statesman
“A heartening novel about art, war, and the tug of family relationships.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Like the statue at its center, Harrigan’s novel is a stunning work of art resting on a solid base of heartbreak.  The action ranges from the Texas plains to the devastated northern French landscape, with the presence of the violent Wild West strongly lingering. . . . The story builds with determined momentum, providing a grimly vivid sense of place and deep insight into the creative process and family relationships.   Harrigan’s The Gates of the Alamo has become a modern classic, and his latest deserves similar acclaim.”—Sarah Johnson, Booklist (starred)
“If it were possible to give Stephen Harrigan’s novel six stars, I would.   I have not been able to stop thinking about Remember Ben Clayton since putting it down a final time.   It is so moving, with a kind of West Texas majesty that reminds us of what the west was like not that long ago.   And it is readable—compulsively so.  I was a huge fan of Harrigan’s earlier Gates of the Alamo so I was aware of his writer’s skill. Ben Clayton is even more nuanced and complex. . . . My favorite book this year.”—Candace Siegle, Goodreads
“I read the first chapter and I was hooked . . . The prose is sparse and reminds me of Hemingway, but it fit the characters perfectly.  The musings of the characters on art and its role in society—and what it means to the individual artist—were exceptionally absorbing. . . . This novel should appeal to a wide audience—fans of cowboy lit, fans of historical fiction, and artists of all stripes.”—Chiron, Rabbit Reader

More About the Author

Stephen Harrigan was born in Oklahoma City in 1948 and has lived in Texas since the age of five, growing up in Abilene and Corpus Christi.
For many years he was a staff writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly, and his articles and essays have appeared in a wide range of other publications as well, including The Atlantic, Outside, The New York Times Magazine, Conde Nast Traveler, Audubon, Travel Holiday, Life, American History, National Geographic and Slate. Many of his magazine pieces have been collected in the essay collections A Natural State (1988) and Comanche Midnight (1995). Another non-fiction book, Water and Light: A Diver's Journey to a Coral Reef, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1992.
Harrigan is the author of four novels. His first novel, Aransas, published by Alfred A. Knopf, was listed by the New York Times as a notable book of 1980. Jacob's Well was published by Simon and Schuster in 1984 and cited as one of the year's best books by The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News. In 2000, Knopf published his novel The Gates of the Alamo, which became a New York Times bestseller and notable book, and which received a number of awards, including the TCU Texas Book Award, the Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the Spur Award for the Best Novel of the West. In April 2006, Knopf published Challenger Park, a novel about a woman astronaut torn between her responsibilities as a mother and her dreams of flying in space. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Thomas Mallon called Challenger Park "a fine, absorbing achievement, probably the best science-factual novel about the space-faring worlds of Houston and Cape Canaveral in the nearly half-century since the first astronauts were chosen." His latest novel, Remember Ben Clayton, was published by Knopf in May 2011. Remember Ben Clayton also won the Spur Award, as well as the Jesse H. Jones from the Texas Institute of Letters for the year's best work of fiction. It was one of five audiobook titles nominated for a 2013 Audie award in the Literary Fiction category. In March, 2013, the University of Texas Press published his career-spanning essay collection The Eye of the Mammoth.
Among the many movies Harrigan has written for television are HBO's award-winning The Last of His Tribe, starring Jon Voight and Graham Greene, and King of Texas, a western retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear for TNT, which starred Patrick Stewart, Marcia Gay Harden, and Roy Scheider. His most recent television production was The Colt, an adaptation of a short story by the Nobel-prize winning author Mikhail Sholokhov, which aired on The Hallmark Channel. For his screenplay of The Colt, Harrigan was nominated for a Writers Guild Award and the Humanitas Prize. Young Caesar, a feature adaptation of Conn Iggulden's "Emperor" novels, which he co-wrote with William Broyles, Jr., is currently in development with Exclusive Media.
A 1971 graduate of the University of Texas, Harrigan lives in Austin, where he is a faculty fellow at UT's James A. Michener Center for Writers. He is also a founding member of the Texas Book Festival, and of Capital Area Statues, Inc., a non-profit organization that commissions and raises money for monumental works of sculpture celebrating the history and culture of Texas. He has received lifetime achievement awards from the Texas Book Festival and the Texas Institute of Letters, and was recently inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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The author's characters were developed very well.
C. Ebert
Remember Ben Clayton flows beautifully and clearly and yet is full of depth and texture.
Drew Youngblood
This is one of those books that you hate to finish!
Helen B. Tenney

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By M. Zagst on May 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
By Stephen Harrigan
352 pages. Knopf. $26.95.

In his previous two novels, Stephen Harrigan has staged the fall of The Alamo, and gone aboard the space shuttle via The Johnson Space Center. And yet THE GATES OF THE ALAMO and CHALLENGER PARK are both Texas stories. In REMEMBER BEN CLAYTON, his fifth novel, the action of Harrigan's newest Texas characters opens amid a battlefield of the first world war. Machine gun fire and artillery and intense fear has seized and immobilized the squad of young Americans. Not so long ago, they were farm boys, students, store clerks. Now, they are pinned down in the hellish French countryside, almost frozen like statues.

"The concussive turbulence sucked away the air. The men gasped for breath in the vacuum. Shrapnel pierced the tree trunks and ploughed into the earth with a hissing force as the ground heaved like a malevolent carnival ride."

Fittingly, the novel's publication date nearly coincides with Memorial Day. This is hardly the stuff of a patriotic song and march. Something else compels Ben Clayton, the young man of the book's title, to rise to his feet and make a charge. Young Ben is filled with the anger and rage that forges heroes. More often, such disregard for his own safety leads to a flag-draped coffin.

Shortly after the war, Ben's father Lamar Clayton doesn't want to know the details of his son's death. His focus is a memorial to the boy's life, in the form of a statue of Ben. He will place the sculpture on a small plateau overlooking the hardscrabble countryside of the family ranch outside of Abilene, Texas. Francis "Gil" Gilheaney takes on the job.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Drew Youngblood on June 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Every now and then you come across a book that reaffirms your faith in literature, and rewards your deepest longings as a reader. This is a wondrous novel. Remember Ben Clayton flows beautifully and clearly and yet is full of depth and texture. Stephen Harrigan brings together so many fascinating aspects of Texas history (such as the children who were captured by Comanches back in the frontier days) and yet his characters are boldly original and compelling. The novel begins well and just keeps gaining momentum as the expertly woven plot threads begin to tie together. This is the sort of novel that helps us understand, and feel, more deeply about what it means to be human. Stephen Harrigan has always been a talented and interesting writer (see Gates of the Alamo, for example) but if this book is any indication, he just keeps getting better and better. At some point we need to stop thinking of Harrigan as a regional writer and think of him as a major American talent. Remember Ben Clayton is a treasure.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on May 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ben Clayton died in France during WW I. His grieving father, Texas rancher Lamar wants to honor his beloved late child so he decides to hire a sculptor to create a statue paying homage to Ben. Lamar hires New York renowned artist Gil Gilheaney.

Gil arrives at the Clayton ranch near San Antonio accompanied by his assistant his daughter Maureen. He researches the lives of father and son as he believes his masterpiece will come from understanding the Clayton family. To his surprise and joy, Gil learns the Comanche kidnapped and raised Lamar and his sister while Indians also massacred the housekeeper. At the same time Maureen feels stifled by her father as she wants to do her own projects.

This dark historical thriller focuses on death and violence more so than the making of a bronze statue; though both sides add up to a great tale. The war to end wars may be over, but the mental and physical aftermath haunt the survivors like the father whose son died and the disfigured soldier who would have preferred to have died along side of his late comrade in arms Ben. Gruesome (warning not to eat just prior to the calf scene), Stephen Harrigan argues that by our despairing need to remember our Ben Clayton, we honor our hopelessness that everyone faces a final act.

Harrier Klausner
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Mitchell VINE VOICE on March 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I started out loving this book. The writing is tremendous and the opening battle scene from WWI was gripping. The book continued to be excellent as it followed, primarily, two men past their primes - a sculptor and his client. The client's son died in the battle described in the first pages and the sculptor is enraptured by the idea of sculpting him. His daughter serves as an apprentice.

The two older men were terrific characters. Both have hurtful secrets that are slowly peeled back like the layers of an onion. Most revealed betrayals of the ones they loved. When these stories were revealed, they were captivating.

Mr. Harrigan also captured the period of the years after WWI well. He portrayed the taste and feelings of the times. An America just feeling its oats as a new power while still having a toe in the old west.

So there is a lot good about the book. however, there are weaknesses.

The daughter, who also is a major character did not resonate. For all the emotion and feeling the older men evoke, her character never really rang true, her emotions were pretty standard stuff and her actions pretty darn predictable.

The book is a relentless march through the depressing parts of the men's lives. I don't think there was a giggle or a grin in the entire book. Not every book needs humor. But this book was the same tone, over and over and over, with little variation in tempo or pace. It made for tiring reading. The main characters constantly went through the same cycle of withdrawing, revealing, withdrawing.

As good as the writing was and as interesting as the characters were initially, by the end I was happy to see the last page. The book is by no means bad at all. Just be ready for some plodding.
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