THERE MAY BE 'no second acts in American lives' although Philip Roth's astonishing Sabbath's Theatre, American Pastoral and The Human Stain surely undermine that saying - but there are superb second novels, as the author of the first remark proved with his inimitable The Great Gatsby. The Clearing is set in the time when The Great Gatsby was written and is further proof, if any were needed, that second novels are often more magical and memorable than their predecessors.
From the first page of this ni.uscular, old-fashioned narrative one is thrown into the hot, swampy terrain of preDepression Louisiana. In 1923, Randolph Aldridge is sent there by his business-magnate father to locate and bring back his adored elder brother Byron. Byron went to France when • the First World