Fantasy Review, No. 93, July-August 1986, p. 20.
Fables for the Eighties
Arkin, Alan. The Clearing. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1986, 186p. $12.95, hardcover. ISBN 0-06-250032-5. “A Chalotte Zolotow Book.”
Some books are difficult to read because they are so quotable: you find yourself abandoning the narrative in mid-chapter as you search for unsuspecting souls who will listen to you rattle off particularly nice sentences and paragraphs. The Clearing is such a book, a delight for the intellect and for the heart as well.
Allegedly based on Arkin’s The Lemming Condition (unread and not available locally), The Clearing stands on its own. Like Disch’s prize-winning “The Brave Little Toaster,” The Clearing seems at first a children’s story, with talking forest animals instead of appliances. Yet, though devoid of sex and violence, the novel has a genuinely mature theme, tracing the lives of several commonplace individuals (who happen to be animals) as they struggle for the strength to overcome themselves.
If you are the cynical type, not interested in identity struggles, you can always read the novel for the dialog, as when a crow tells the cougar, “The bear won’t care, and this bunch of cowards doesn’t deserve much better, but I don’t like what you’re doing to the duck. She’s suffered enough.” This is a multi-purchase novel, the kind you buy in bulk to give to friends.
–Lawrence I. Charters