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Border Songsby Jim Lynch
Synopses & Reviews
EVERYONE REMEMBERED the night Brandon Vanderkool flew across the Crawfords' snowfield and tackled the Prince and Princess of Nowhere. The story was so unusual and repeated so vividly so many times that it braided itself into memories along both sides of the border to the point that you forgot you hadn't actually witnessed it yourself.
The night began like the four before it, with Brandon trying not to feel like an impostor as he scanned the fields, hillsides and roads for people, cars, sacks, shadows or anything else that didn't belong, doubting once again he had whatever it took to become an agent.
He rolled past Tom Dunbar's dormant raspberry fields, where in a fit of patriotism Big Tom had built a twenty-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty, which was either aging swiftly or perhaps, as the old man claimed, had been vandalized by Canadians. Brandon reluctantly waved at the Erickson brothers-who laughed and mock-saluted once they recognized him in uniform—and rattled past Dirk Hoffman's dairy, where Dirk himself stood on a wooden stepladder completing his latest reader-board potshot at the environmentalists: MOUTHWASH IS A PESTICIDE TOO Brandon tapped his horn politely, then swerved through semifrozen potholes across the center line to get a cleaner look at the fringed silhouette of a red-tailed hawk, twenty-six, the white rump of a northern flicker, twenty-seven, and, suspended above everything, the boomerang shape of a solo tree swallow, twenty-eight.
Brandon traversed the streets of his life now more than ever, getting paid, so it seemed, to do what he'd always loved doing, to look closely at everything over and over again. The repetition and familiarity suited him. He’d spent all of his twenty-three years in these farmlands and humble towns pinned between the mountains and the inland sea along the top of Washington State. Traveling beyond this grid had always disoriented him, especially when it involved frenzied cities twitching with neon and pigeons and bug-eyed midgets gawking up at him. A couple hours in the glassy canyons of Seattle or Vancouver could jam his circuits, jumble his words and leave him worrying his life would end before he had a chance to understand it.
Some people blamed his oddities on his dyslexia, which was so severe that one giddy pediatrician called it a gift: while he might never learn how to spell or read better than the average fourth grader, he'd always see things the rest of us couldn’t. Others speculated that he was simply too large for this world. Though Brandon claimed to be six-six, because that was all the height most people could fathom, he was actually a quarter inch over six-eight-and not a spindly six-eight either, but 232 pounds of meat and bone stacked vertically beneath a lopsided smile and a defiant wedge of hair that gave him the appearance of an unfinished sculpture. His size had always triggered unreasonable expectations. Art teachers claimed that his unusual bird paintings were as extraordinary as his body. Basketball coaches babbled about his potential until he quit hoops for good after watching that huge Indian in Cuckoo's Nest drop the ball in the hole for a giddy Jack Nicholson. Tall women fawned over his potential too, until they heard his confusing raves and snorting laughs or took a closer look at his art.
Near dusk, Brandon wheeled up Northwood past the no
Set in the previously sleepy hinterlands straddling Washington state and British Columbia, Border Songs is the story of Brandon Vanderkool, six foot eight, frequently tongue-tied, severelydyslexic, and romantically inept. Passionate about bird-watching, Brandon has a hard time mustering enthusiasm for his new job as a Border Patrol agent guarding thirty miles of largely invisible boundary. But toeveryone's surprise, he excels at catching illegals, and as drug runners, politicians, surveillance cameras, and a potential sweetheart flock to this scrap of land, Brandon is suddenly at the center of somethingmuch bigger than himself.
A magnificent novel of birding, smuggling, farming and extraordinary love, Border Songs welcomes us to a changing community populated with some ofthe most memorable characters in recent fiction.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
By the acclaimed author of The Highest Tide, a story of contrary destinies further complicated by the border that separates them.
Six foot eight and severely dyslexic, Brandon Vanderkool has always had an unusual perspective—which comes in handy once his father pushes him off their dairy farm and into the Border Patrol. He used to jump over the ditch into British Columbia but now is responsible for policing a thirty-mile stretch of this largely invisible boundary. Uncomfortable in this uniformed role, he indulges his passion for bird-watching and often finds not only an astonishing variety of species but also a great many smugglers hauling pot into Washington State, as well as potentially more dangerous illegals. What a decade before was a sleepy rural hinterland is now the front line of an escalating war on both drugs and terrorism.
Life on either side of the border is undergoing a similar transformation. Mountaintop mansions in Canada peer down into berry farms that might offer convenient routes into the budding American market, politicians clamor for increased security, surveillance cameras sprout up everywhere and previously law-abiding citizens are tempted to turn a blind eye. Closer to home, Brandon’s father battles disease in his herd, and his mother something far more frightening. Madeline Rousseau, who grew up right across the ditch, has seen her gardening skills turn lucrative, while her father keeps busy by replicating great past inventions, medicating himself and railing against imperialism. And overseeing all is the mysterious masseuse who knows everybody’s secrets.
Rich in characters contending with a swiftly changing world and their own elusive hopes and dreams, Border Songs is at once comic and tender and momentous—a riveting portrait of a distinctive community, an extraordinary love story and fiction of the highest order.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Jim Lynch lives with his wife and their daughter in Olympia, Washington. As a journalist, he has received the H. L. Mencken Award, among others. His first novel, The Highest Tide, won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, appeared on several bestseller lists, was adapted for the stage, and has been published in eleven foreign markets.
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