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Remember Ben Clayton: A novel by [Harrigan, Stephen]
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Remember Ben Clayton: A novel Kindle Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Length: 369 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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.


“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

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3135 KB
  • Print Length: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 24, 2011)
  • Publication Date: May 24, 2011
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004DEPH2K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #214,891 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
Stephen Harrigan's Remember Ben Clayton is a brilliant piece of writing. I use five consistent characteristics of good fiction to measure my reaction to a novel: fully developed characters, intriguing plot, pacing that matches plot, compelling prose, and realistic setting. If Remember Ben Clayton were a baseball player, it would, in fact, be one of those rare "five tool" players (based there on average, power, speed, throwing, and defense) because it delivers on all five of the qualities I most admire in a work of fiction.

The book is filled with interesting characters. Ben Clayton, the title character, grew up on a remote Texas ranch under the care of a demanding father and longtime housekeeper. Lamar Clayton, Ben's grieving father, is a man filled with secrets and regrets, the worst of which directly impacted his relationship with Ben. Francis "Gil" Gilheaney is a respected sculptor whose stubborn pride has forced him to accept new commissions outside of New York City because he has offended that city's artistic power structure, effectively burning his bridges there. Maureen is Gil's adult daughter, a never-married woman who has devoted her own life to helping her father in his work. In addition, there is a young soldier, horribly scarred and deformed from battle, who has chosen to stay in France at the end of the war rather than face his friends and family as he is now. He, too, plays a key role in Stephen Harrigan's story.

Lamar Clayton wants to place a memorial to his son on a remote plateau to which the boy would often ride when he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. Ben's body is still buried in France near the World War I battlefield on which he died, and Lamar hopes to find comfort in seeing a likeness of Ben and his horse where the boy spent so much time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
On the eve of Prohibition, Lamar Clayton, a widowed, embittered Texas rancher, commissions a statue of his son Ben, killed in World War I, to stand on a mountaintop on his land. Francis "Gil" Gilheaney, the sculptor, sets out to fulfill the commission with the help of his steadfast, plain daughter Maureen, who is a budding sculptress in her own right. Out of this simple situation Stephen Harrigan constructs a novel which unfolds in epic fashion, in several cities across the United States, the rugged country of the Southwest, and in the battlefields of World War I France. Painful family secrets and past lives are revealed along the way; apparently unshakeable familial bonds are broken, and new, unlikely emotional alliances formed.

Among "Remember Ben Clayton's" sterling virtues are a vivid sense of locale, strongly drawn characters, and, most of all, a real sense of the creative process and what it means to be an artist. This last is an extraordinary accomplishment; I can't think of another recent work of fiction I've encountered that has delved into the mechanics and emotions of creating a work of art in such depth and with such success. This alone would set this novel apart, but there are other unforgettable scenes--the horrors of hand-to-hand combat on the battlefields of France, and a violent kidnapping by a rogue Indian tribe, are conveyed with heart-stopping immediacy. With such a talent for bringing scenes to cinematic life it is understandable, though unfortunate, that Harrigan occasionally overreaches: an early chapter detailing the destruction of another of Gil's statues by a racist mob is thrilling, but turns out to have little to do with the plot.
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