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Book Review: Clearings: A Collection of Four Stories -- Biff Mitchell
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Sunday, September 12, 2004
Posted: Tuesday, December 03, 2002

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Four stories about environmental impact on man make up this e-book. In the first, a man canoeing with his girlfriend comes to an unsettling realization that heading downstream is not as predictable a route as he’d thought. The second involves a mentally challenged man living an isolated extreme until he discovers new life in a nickel dropped into the outside donations box his father began while alive. The third deals with a man enticed to thrift. And, the fourth presents a man’s embrace of nature then his ability to shatter it.

“Downstream” begins with the narrator Carman and girlfriend Debbie rowing along a peaceful river. After taking a separate route than that of their friends, Carman assures a concerned Debbie all branches lead one way, downstream. Still, Debbie’s worries take over. She suggests their friends might have reached a dead end, or worse, a greater body of water. When all channels do merge, nature laughs at their folly. It is no accident Biff Mitchell has chosen the name “Carman” for his narrator. Modern man drives cars, not canoes, and Carman’s belief the river will behave according to his wishes epitomizes the idea.

In “The Nickel,” Josh, a mentally challenged man, has not had much company in the fifteen years since his father passed away. Then someone drops a bit of change into the donations box his father began for The Needy. The box hasn’t seen change in years yet now contains a nickel. So, Josh sets out on a scorching road with intentions of donating the coin. Miles later, a sun poisoned Josh comes upon a stream where he runs into the water, soaking and drinking only to lose the coin. This is not the end, but a fresh beginning. Through Josh’s sacrifice, Mitchell proceeds to show how circumstance rewards the decent hearted.

“A Shiny New Pan for Jerry” also explores environment but this time it takes place inside a mall where a man addicted to spending succumbs to temptation. Jerry’s wife has given him a grocery list containing bare needs. They have two children with not enough money for a dentist visit. Still, Jerry is compelled to go to the mall and hunger over numerous sale slogans. Each percentage-off sign seems an answer to his downtrodden life. Although the errand’s main purpose is to buy bottle liners, Jerry buys needless items, forgetting the liners altogether. Mitchell effectively shows how advertisement can capture an easy-led mind, especially if the mind is also down and out. His style makes use of caps to demonstrate the persuasive power of the slogan.

In “The Clearing,” a man named Daniel enters a favorite nature spot, which is a spacious woodland clearing. Daniel shouts pronouncements of love that echo into it. He hikes forward, discovering a tree by a stream, which seems placed for him to sit on. Mitchell’s character regards the stream as a life-giving vein sustaining life. Yet when his character is seated, a fascination of the stream’s ice turns ugly: Daniel decides to drop a hunk of snow over the sheet, destroying the clearing’s order -- A sharp edge results, comparable to that in man.

Mitchell’s genius use of setting and character allows readers to identify with each character’s joy or remorse as influenced by environment. Mitchell does focus a good portion of his soul on setting. Yet, story elements are in balance as characters are true to life.

*For a free copy of Clearings in Acrobat format, send an email to with "Clearings Request" in the subject line. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose than to send you the free e-book.



Web Site: Cape Cod Today

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Reviewed by SARA QUEST 12/3/2002
I really must give myself a 9.5 for this one. After all, the sweat I put into it caused a severely aching bum!
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