Remember Ben Clayton

Written by Stephen Harrigan
Review by Pamela Ferrell Ortega

What a thoughtful, psychologically penetrating novel this is. The action begins in a terrifying battle near the end of World War I in the trenches of France. Ben, the son of a wealthy, reclusive Texas rancher, Lamar Clayton, mysteriously loses his will to live and impulsively takes rash actions that cost his life on the battlefield. Soon after the armistice, the brilliant and largely unrecognized sculptor Francis Gilheaney receives the offer of a commission from Ben’s father to create a statue of Ben on his Texas ranch. Accompanied by his daughter and assistant, the thirtyish Maureen, also a talented sculptor, Gilheaney travels to meet Ben’s father at his ranch in order to better understand the life of the deceased son. The story unfolds in the meetings of these two strong-willed and controlling, arrogant men, meetings where their clashes reveal more similarities than differences in their personalities and histories.

Maureen Gilheaney is witness to these conflicts. As the harrowing story unfolds of Lamar’s childhood capture by Indians and its later effect on his family, Maureen also experiences the blow of secrets long kept by her own father. Although the action alternates between a France devastated by World War I and an isolated ranch in the harsh beauty of central Texas, the novel is less a Western or even a war novel than an exploration of both fathers’ inabilities to admit weakness and deceits and the subsequent loss of their children’s trust and love. Elegantly and powerfully written, Remember Ben Clayton is riveting and remains with the reader long after the last page is read.