The actual clearing of Thomas Rydder’s novel is the place of battle. A stretch of Pennsylvania backwoods where a group of determined men squares off with a pack of savage, supernatural wolves. It’s a proving ground of sorts that epitomizes a the plot of the novel, a blend of tactical combat and a chess match played out between the sturdy Sheriff Frank Cutlip and the monstrous leader of the wolf pack.
And there’s a lot at stake. The Sheriff stands to lose his brother and possibly watch his home town descend into chaos. The wolves, on the other hand, are pressed for time. They must complete a sinister, primal ritual or face losing their powers. The struggle between man and wolf can only become lethal.
There are many shades of lethal however, and The Clearing’s has an old fashioned, thrill ride sensibility to it, like climbing onto one if those iconic wooden roller coasters from the early 1900’s and holding on tight while your teeth rattle .
In fact, the entire book has an old-fashioned sensibility to it. It is colored with an undertone of Americana and nostalgia, part John Wayne/ John Ford and part Norman Rockwell magazine cover, it evinces a strong feeling of a more innocent past.
The men of The Clearing – to a man- display valor and honor. They are gritty, handy with guns, and gentle to women. This might be one small downside to the novel, they’re all cut from the same cloth, and I kept hoping at least one of them would be a jerk or a coward. Or maybe even a cowardly jerk. The women are resourceful and super helpful. Romance falls decidedly into the sphere of the chaste. In terms of horror, it reminds me more of the horror novels of the 1960’s, novels that used suspense and tight plotting to scare. And while there is violence and blood, The Clearing is refreshingly free of the post-90’s preoccupation with micro-reporting pain, torture and cruelty. Nor does The Clearing exhibit the kind of smarmy, sarcastic tone of so many horror stories about teenagers.
Overall, I found The Clearing to be a vintage roller-coaster ride, a solid, well-told tale of wolves and men, and I look forward to more work from Thomas Rydder.