“Jim Lynch’s new novel reads as an antitdote to the 21st century: a kind of metaphorical insistence on hope and simplicity and art in the face of a surrounding storm. Border Songs is a quietly ambitious book and it just gets better as it rises to the final satisfying image.” —Kent Haruf
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.
Jim Lynch worked as a journalist in Alaska, Washington, D.C., and across the Pacific Northwest, winning a number of national reporting honours. His critically acclaimed and award-winning first novel, The Highest Tide, was an international bestseller. He lives with his wife and their daughter in Olympia, Washington.
Meet Jim Lynch on his book tour.
From our interview with Jim Lynch:
Q: What was your inspiration for Border Songs? Were there any actual incidents on the Canadian/US border that gave rise to the idea for this novel?
A: I got hooked on the notion of setting a novel along the border after several trips up there as a journalist looking into security fears and marijuana smuggling. The western end of the border is not only gorgeous but a mindbender, too, seeing how the two countries are often divided by nothing more than a drainage ditch. Just the sight of the ever increasing number of green-and-white Border Patrol cars traversing the quiet farmlands was enough to get the novel rolling in my head. And yes, there were many news flashes on both sides of the ditch that helped inspire this story.
Q: Did you have to do much research for this novel? Ride around with border-patrol agents?Talk to folks who might have some insight into running a vast and highly organized marijuana smuggling business? Or operating a dairy farm? How close to the border do you yourself live?
A: I did lots of research, first as a reporter, then as a novelist. The Border Patrol tripled its northern force during the two years after 9-11. But when I rode along with agents it became obvious that nobody was catching terrorists. What they were primarily doing was intercepting huge loads of British Columbia marijuana bound for big cities in the West. I watched agents marvel like teenagers over piles of potent buds. I interviewed Canadian activists and growers and found the B.C. marijuana scene amusing. While the U.S. government beefed up its drug war and called pot a deadly gateway drug, Canada flirted with legalization and grew so much marijuana indoors that Forbes called “B.C. bud” the province’s largest agricultural export. One grinning smoker/grower explained to me that “the problem with Americans is that you’re so euphoriaphobic.” My research also included hanging out on a small dairy farm. I read books on birds, dyslexia, autism and landscape art too. I live about 150 miles south of the border.
(Read the rest)