Six-foot-eight and severely dyslexic, Brandon Vanderkool has always had an unusual perspective. He knows the mating calls of all the local owls, and can feel a flock of swans taking off before the sound reaches him. But he finds human feelings harder to read - especially lately. His father has got him a job with the Border Patrol, a reluctant and miscellaneous outfit that polices the often invisible frontier between the United States and Canada. What used to be a sleepy hinterland of farms, with foreign neighbours saluting ...
Six-foot-eight and severely dyslexic, Brandon Vanderkool has always had an unusual perspective. He knows the mating calls of all the local owls, and can feel a flock of swans taking off before the sound reaches him. But he finds human feelings harder to read - especially lately. His father has got him a job with the Border Patrol, a reluctant and miscellaneous outfit that polices the often invisible frontier between the United States and Canada. What used to be a sleepy hinterland of farms, with foreign neighbours saluting each other ironically over a shallow ditch, suddenly appears to have become the frontline of an escalating war on drugs and terror. As CCTV cameras sprout up all over the forest, previously law-abiding farmers find themselves increasingly tempted to turn a blind eye. And Brandon, on his excursions to spot red-tailed hawks and solo tree swallows, seems to be accidentally stumbling upon every illegal immigrant and bud trafficker in the area. Closer to home, Brandon's father is dealing with diseased dairy cows, his mother battles encroaching dementia, and their Canadian neighbour's daughter Madeline turns her gardening skills toward the cannabis underworld. And overseeing everything is a mysterious masseuse who seems to know everybody's secrets Filled with eccentric characters and unique histories, Border Songs is that rare delight: a gently satirical portrait, an extraordinary love story and a celebration of the coincidental and the miraculous.
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Like the works of E.L. Doctorow, Border Songs is one of those slow, rich stories that suck you in with their sweet, sympathetic and quirky characters and then hooks you with sly observations and deep resonant themes.
Brandon Vanderkool, the main character, is one of the most unique heroes in recent fiction. A giant, awkward, fish-out-of-water, Brandon?s unique brand of autism and dyslexia transforms him into something of a performance artist and Zen master. He sees everything at once, in the moment, without judgment, making him uniquely qualified as both a bird watcher (his passion) and a border patrol agent (his accidental vocation), but much less so at simple human interaction. He?s something of an idiot savant?reminiscent of Peter Sellers in Being There?always in the right place at the right time without actually intending it.
The other characters are rich and wonderful: Norm Vanderkool, the gruff and weary dairyman who has been building a 40 foot sail boat in his barn, his wife in the first stages of Alzheimer?s, Wayne the hyper political Canadian professor, his reckless, pot-growing daughter and the lively masseuse and chronicler Sophie. While Brandon is living truly free and aloof, the others are all defining, divining and denying freedom in various ways?even the pathetic people who are caught attempting to cross the Canadian border into the USA. The theme here is borders?duh?both the lines drawn on the map and the lines we draw around ourselves.
On top of the rich portrayals, the humorous skewering of both the Canadian pot culture and the paranoid, right-wing mentality of the US after 9/11 is quite delightful and, at times, reminiscent of the slyer works of TC Boyle. Rich in place, character and themes, Border Songs was one of the best books I read last year.
Sep 8, 2011
A true favorite
This is a wonderful funny and exciting story that takes place in the Pacific Northwest, that shows how much can be going on around you if only look in a different direction. I hate to catagorize this story as a Forest Gump, or nerd's rule, but simple how a very regular goof (much like all the rest of us) finds events happening by looking at the perifial that the rest of us take for granted.
Oct 24, 2009
Life Along the Border of BC/WA
This is Lynch's 2nd novel about a male outside the mainstream, with a passion for nature and the environment. Brandon Vanderkool is a 23 yr old 6'8" autistic, dyslexic, and artistic son of a dairy farmer, who has just become a Border Patrol. He has an uncanny knack for stumbling across drug runners, smugglers, gun caches- and he has a vast knowledge of the bird habitat of the area. Lynch has a colorful and slyly humorous way of describing characters on both sides of the border. Dunbars, Ericksons, Hoffmans, Moffatts, and Sophie Winslow (town mystery woman) are introduced. There is a lot of border confusion, ignorance, and fear-politics on both sides. Plus probably more than you want to know about dairy farming! This is a wise, comfortable, sensitive and sensible tale that has both despair and hope as a theme. It is a delightful read- handled with a very light touch.
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