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
“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