Border Songs (Knopf, 2009) by Jim Lynch makes one unholy ruckus: a cacophony lulled and softened by frequent bird song melodies. How further to describe this brilliant black comedy of a novel? It's something like Confederacy of Dunces meets "Fargo" (the 1996 Coen Brothers film). It also calls to mind "Northern Exposure", the television series. Quirky for sure.
The character who gets the whole thing off to a grand start is one Brandon Vanderkool, who at six foot eight inches, is a bumbling newbee on the U. S. Border Patrol between British Columbia and Washington state. Brandon grew up on a dairy farm and was largely home schooled due to his dyslexia and somewhat antisocial tendencies. He has always been more interested in birds than people, and due to this hobby, and to his love of art and painting, has developed very fine visual abilities. Thus he is able to spot drug smugglers, terrorists and illegal aliens like nobody's business. Townspeople who have always scorned and misunderstood him start to look at him differently. I felt protective of Brandon and proud of his new era of success. Brandon also endeared himself to me with his Andy Goldsworthy-like art creations of stitched leaves and piled rocks, etc. He plays with nature like a born innocent. I saw the genius in him, and hope you will too.
Brandon's father barely manages to keep the family farm going, and would rather be working on his impossible dream: a large boat he is building in the barn. Brandon's mother rallies against the onset of early Alzheimer's by memorizing and reciting odd groups of trivia. Then there is the character of Madeline, the one girl from Brandon's childhood whom he can't forget and tries to date, not knowing she is in league with the local drug cartel. Indeed, she is a cannabis cultivator, in charge of all kinds of things that go on in many hidden-in-plain-view grow-houses.
The complications are many, and though there were more details about the drug trade than I wanted to indulge in, the comic twists and turns all add up to a satisfying end. Much is made of the interplay and antagonism between Canada and America, the border itself being an amorphous, often invisible character sashaying its way throughout the novel. Honestly, I haven't laughed so much at a novel in a long time (not that it's all laughs...). Border Songs goes straight to the top of my 2009 Best Books list, and when I have more time, I'd like to go back and pick up Lynch's first novel, The Highest Tide.