Prairie Son

Dennis M. Clausen, Author Mid-List Press $16 (243p) ISBN 978-0-922811-39-7
When his father was dying of cancer, novelist Clausen (Ghost Lover) suggested that the ""impossibly distant"" wanderer write his life story to reconcile a life marred by failed relationships. Lloyd Clausen filled three legal pads with a summary of his experiences, which his son spun into this powerfully sentimental narrative of Lloyd's hard-luck coming-of-age on the Minnesota prairie during the Depression. Striving to preserve his father's humble, plainspoken voice, Clausen fashions an ""autobiography"" that descends too often into bromides and cracker-barrel philosophizing. But not even the press to find lessons behind every anecdote can dilute the undeniable power of Lloyd's tragic story. In many ways, it's an archetypal account of Depression-era hardship: evil bankers extort sexual favors from farmwives, families draw together during hard times. But Lloyd's life was harsher than most. Adopted by a poor farm couple, he suffers through a childhood that is a litany of Dickensian abuse and inhumanity. Banned from the house by day and locked in the cellar while his mother entertained a lover, forced to run the farm while his father played cards or fished, beaten at home and at school, he grows up little more than a beast of burden. His closest emotional attachment is to Buster and Minnie, the farm dogs he considers his ""real adoptive parents"" and protectors. The heartbreaking frankness with which Clausen relates his father's quest to find his birth mother and establish a place in the wider world elevates this chronicle from mere bathos to something more like a testament to one boy's heroic, if flawed, struggle to maintain his humanity in the face of overwhelming odds. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
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