BOOK REVIEW: Border Songs
By Jim Lynch, Vintage, 2010, Paperback, 291 pages, $15
The novel "Border Songs," by Washington writer Jim Lynch -- to be staged at ACT later this year -- is not about the U.S.-Mexican border we have been focused on recently. It's about the western U.S.-Canadian border along the 49th parallel, and it deals with illegal marijuana trafficking and immigration across that border. Blaine and Bellingham are mentioned. One scene takes place in a ritzy neighborhood of Vancouver, and another takes place at the Peace Arch Park, which anyone crossing into Vancouver, B.C., will know. But most of the action happens in the rural areas along the border.
The main character is a broad, towering oaf of a young man named Brandon Vanderkool, whose father is a dairyman and whose mother is a less well-drawn victim of early-stage Alzheimer's. Paul Bunyan-like in stature, he is an outside-the-box, artistic person, whose eccentricity and social awkwardness -- perhaps the result of autism spectral disorder -- is the cause of verbal mix-ups, especially when he is under pressure. He is also a nature boy, very perceptive of the fields, woods and swamps of his home turf. Though socially inept, he is very attuned to the needs of his father's cows, and alert to all kinds of bird life. "He heard a marsh wren trill as soon as he stepped on the boardwalk, then a gadwall burp. He strolled past a bittern without blowing its cover, its eyes on the sky, its streaked vertical neck blending with the reeds. He saw common yellowthroats and heard nine different songbirds. Heading back out, he lobbed rocks into the reeds until he was rewarded with the unmistakable whistle and croak of a Virginia rail, fifty-one."
Most importantly for the plot of "Border Songs," Brandon is a member of the American Border Patrol. His perceptiveness makes him an exceptionally good agent, in fact, and his interruptions of smuggling operations lead to a number of arrests, after which he becomes an unwitting, comical sort of hero among his fellow patrollers.
Brandon's crush, Madeline, is a young woman whose mother died when she was a child, leaving her to be raised by her father, Wayne Rousseau, a retired professor who has MS and, for pain relief, smokes marijuana, which is legal in Canada. One glimpse we get of her is through Brandon's eyes, as he waits for her in a caf