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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book Snapshots: "Border Songs" by Jim Lynch

Border Songs, a novel by Jim Lynch, is set in Washington State, along the U.S. - Canadian border. It is a story about order and chaos, with dashes of humor and a gloss of magic.

Newly minted Border Patrol Agent Brandon Vanderkool is a unique character trying to fit into the world of law enforcement. A huge man, 6'8" and 232 pounds, 23-year old Brandon is an artist, a quirky ornithologist, and dyslexic. He is self-conscious, often unsure how to act around other people, yet he is uninhibited in the pursuit of birds, in making art, and in nature. It turns out that Brandon's quirks are what turns him into a star with the Border Patrol.

While Brandon grapples with smugglers and crossers, his father, Norm, continues to run the dairy farm on the international border where Brandon grew up and still lives. Norm has a long list of problems including, but not limited to, sick cows, the EPA, jabs from his Canadian neighbor about American policies, his wife's developing Alzheimer's disease, and the angst of getting old.

In fact, things seem to be going south, so to speak, for many of the characters in Border Songs, as they face illness, addiction, and, for a surprising number, arrest after succumbing to what looks like easy money smuggling bud. Author Lynch restores a bit of order for some folks by the end of the story. Readers know, however, that this is just a respite, that there is no real fix in the immediate future for many of their problems. But there is hope.

Border Songs is a creative work. Lynch sets down a group of interesting characters grappling with contemporary social problems while surrounded by the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. It's a very nice book.

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