three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
By: 
Jim Lynch
user_rating: 
0

A-Border SongsJim Lynch is an award-winning former journalist and a native of Washington State. His debut novel, The Highest Tide ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Nov/Dec 2005), received the 2006 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award.

The Story: As a U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brandon Vanderkool spends his days roaming the Washington State-British Columbia border and indulging a passion for bird-watching. His six-foot-eight frame and severe dyslexia have branded him an outsider, but Brandon is surprisingly adept at spotting drug smugglers and illegal immigrants along the perimeter. His father, Norm, struggles with a failing farm, a sick wife, and the temptation of easy drug money. And Brandon's unrequited love, Madeline, spends her days tending a growing marijuana farm just north of the border. Amid the hysteria of a possible terrorist plot, Lynch explores the lives of a small international community affected by America's increasingly restrictive security measures.
Knopf. 291 Pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307271174

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4 of 5 Stars
"What American novelist has ever taken such pains to understand a genuine Canadian point of view? ... Lynch's comic borderland is not only palpable, it is richly metaphoric." John Barber

Vancouver Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"[A] wonderful and important read. ... Lynch has a delightful satirical yet human touch in the way he tells us about this border culture, a subject rarely explored in literature." Miro Cernetig

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Lynch portrays Brandon with such tenderness and humor that you can't help but fall in love with him. ... Tender, sad and leavened with wit, Border Songs reads like something written by a more efficient Richard Russo." Ron Charles

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] funny, tender, sometimes strange read that crams several unlikely plots and personalities together. ... Ultimately, it's a narrative tilt-a-whirl, and a worthy summer distraction." Karen Schechner

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Border Songs is a fable of innocence lost, or at least misplaced, and Brandon is one of the most remarkable characters created by a Northwest author in recent memory. ... Lynch observes like a journalist and writes like a poet, but sometimes he just can't contain that urge to explain things." Mary Ann Gwinn

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"[T]his book's international and local dramas seem like parts of two very different stories, one ominous and one blithe. Neither the towering figure of Brandon nor that of the Peace Arch uniting Blaine, Wash., with Surrey, British Columbia, is tall enough to bridge that particular border." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

Critics fell hard for the oversized and endearingly awkward Brandon Vanderkool, and marveled at Lynch's ability to create a "fascinating protagonist" (Vancouver Sun), "an imaginative tour de force" (Globe and Mail), and a highly original hero who is "as Northwest as moss on a stump" (Seattle Times). It was nice to see reviews from outside the Pacific Northwest as well. Lynch's humorous, sometimes melancholy depiction of small-town border life also brought favorable comparisons to Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo. Several critics felt the story was hampered by a crowded cast and storyline and a pat ending, but others enjoyed the colorful array of characters-Madeline's pothead professor father in particular. Overall, critics deemed Border Songs a must-read, if only to be introduced to an irresistible new character in American literature.