THE CLEARING is a passionate, warmhearted story of a young mismatched Norwegian couple, 17 and 15, who, in 1888, flee hidebound Norway to emigrate to America, end up in the midst of a huge forest. Trapped in a tiny clearing, hostages of the giant virgin pine brooding over them, they surmount overwhelming odds to carve out a livelihood and sustain their "marriage". This dramatic story is filled with larger-than-life characters, schemes and dreams, love and lust, hardship and sorrow, hope and humor, as the young couple persevere. The American Dream seemingly fulfilled.
As noted on previous page, The Clearing is the first volume of a trilogy which will depict, in microcosm, the rise, decline and fall of the United States family farm. The second volume, in the process of being written, will carry the protagonists and their issue through the second generation and into the third, keying particularly on the family farm's nadir during the Great Depression and its zenith after the Second World War. The third volume, written, entitled Cry Of The Prairie, will tell of its decline and fall during the 1980's, when the family farm, its people, its way of life, was shouldered aside by agribusiness and its sidekick, the United States government.
There is generally a paramount reason why a serious writer writes a serious novel. It isn't for fame or money for there is often little or none of either. Most times it is written because the writer has no choice. He is compelled to write that novel.
Such is the case with the trilogy. Particularly this middle volume for there is where the author lived his life, becomes part of the action, moves back onto the real stage. Perhaps that is why Chris has left this novel as his last to be written: Perhaps because he will fall far short of being the hero. But, then again, perhaps he will come out somewhere near a hero…neither of us will know till it is written.
And it will be written. He has already begun. For Chris has carried the trauma, this shame, as long as he can; it's been getting in his way all his life. He must exorcise it once and for all. Redeem his parents. Redeem himself, fulfill a promise, make amends, atone for his transgressions, restore himself to favor. And the only way he will be able to do so is to write it out.
After all, he was only eight. He was called Merlin then. It was a lovely bright crisp Wisconsin spring day. He could hear the clip-clop of the horse's hooves, the jingle of their harness bells. The creaks of the tired old haywagon beneath him, feel the jolt each time the steel-banded wagon wheels fell into a pothole in the rutted dirt road. "Can't you slow them horses down, Helmer?" Ma said, "We're about getting shook to pieces." "Whoa," Pa said, "Whoa down there."
Merlin could hear the sows shuffling about in the crates right next to where he was under the daybed; one of them squealed, she must'a got nipped. Their pigshit smelled something awful: most like this whole thing gave them diarrhea; their bellies couldn't figger out why they were penned up taking a ride down this long rutty road. He could hear a hen clucking to her chicks in another of the crates; the lighter chicken crates were stacked atop the bigger heavier pig crates, he knew that for sure for he had helped Pa and Floyd load the wagon. Then the chairs and straw tick mattresses and the small house things were stacked atop the chicken crates, the bed frames and dresser and their spare clothes and just about everything else they owned all lashed down tight together with binder twine. He could hear his next older brother Vern yell at one of the few cows they had left, it must have strayed off the road into the ditch, probably wanting to take a bite of the young June grass just sprouting along the roadway; Vern then must'a rode his horse up alongside the cow and give her a whack with his sapling whip for she let out a beller. He could hear his little sister Shirley starts to cry; more like whimper like she was getting hungry or something, hear Ma try to shuss her up, talking low and nice like she always did when one of the little kids cried. Now he heard his little brother Orin try to shuss Shirley too, even offer her some of the cornbread Merlin had seen him stick in his pocket when they left their house for the last time…he could hear…
But he couldn't really see anything for sure from his hiding place here under the daybed. He had crawled under there right after they first started out, just before they passed Winkler's. Just as soon as he saw all the Winkler kids, their Ma and Pa too, standing out in their yard waiting for us to pass by on our way to nowhere. Most likely they were pointing their fingers at us, he thought, even laughing at us, shaking their heads thinking what poor sticks we were to lose our farm when they was smart enough to still have theirs…I guess we were just plain failures, like he heard Mykletust tell Pa that day out in the yard. Said we had to get our no good loser ass off his property because it was his now.
He felt like crying too. But he couldn't, he was too big to cry. Too old.
Chris Loken, after stints as an athlete; U. S. Naval Air Force, Korean War; law school; jazz club entrepreneur; actor (best remembered appearing on stage opposite Rita Moreno in I Am A Camera); writer of stage plays (his play Indian Summer had its American premiere at the Frank Lloyd Wright Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin); finally began writing, at the age of 38, novels. His first, Come Monday Mornin', harkening back to his days as an athlete, tells, in no uncertain terms, what often happens to good or even great athletes when the cheering stops. Having been coddled by all and sundry since the first day they picked up a football, coming to believe they had found their destiny and many times never bothering to learn much else, they play their games till they run out of body and only then look around to see there is no stadium, no cheering crowd, no pom pom girls, no job, no real education…not much of anything. So what does he do next? You'll have to read it to find out. Published hardcover by M. Evans and paperback by Pocket Books. Available now on eBook and iTunes.
His second novel, The Boy Next Door, is basically a study of the psychosexual serial killer in novel form. Having studied the "why" of the criminal mind in the law school library when he should have been preparing for his exams in Contracts and other such mundane courses, he felt himself, when reading in a newspaper of a real life classic psychosexual serial killer, expert enough to write the novel so he did. As it came to pass, others thought it turned out pretty good and it was published hardcover by Dodd Mead and paperback by Berkley. Also available on eBook and iTunes.
He then bought a fruit farm. As anyone who has had some artistic success and then bought a farm of any kind soon finds out, farmland is best known as excellent burial ground for artists of any ilk for it takes up so much time and energy and dollars the erstwhile artist has no time or money or energy left to art. Of course, Chris thought he knew better; fruit farms are seasonal, you just show up to reap the harvest and its dollars. You just sit back in your second floor study in your historical Victorian/Colonial house and watch the pre-harvest farming out your picture window. Watch the crop-duster plane spray your orchard, watch the grower from down the road work your orchard, watch his migrants pick your crop, watch the packer's trucks load your crop and take it to his packinghouse, watch the broker sell the crop…watch the mailman delivering their bills. Of course, Chris was wrong again: Everybody else was reaping the harvest and the dollars and he was reaping the bills. But he was no quitter; he hung on for 43 more years, most of them losers, but actually finally built LoveApple Farm into a paying proposition, a landmark institution; he even become a respected squire of sorts, some kind of half-assed fruit farm expert…but he didn't get much writing done…