Dancy Roman and William Arrow meet one night in 1949 at a restaurant in the fictional town of Bayou Cymbaline in New Orleans. For William, it is love at first sight. After Dancy unexpectedly becomes pregnant, she and William marry and are deliriously happy while expecting their child. One night, on his way home from work, William stops by the local A&P. While waiting on line, he is shot and murdered point blank by an unidentified vagabond-type man known only as “The Wanderer.”
A devastated Dancy moves in with her wealthy mother-in-law, Letice Molyneaux Arrow, and shortly thereafter gives birth to Bonaventure Arrow. Bonaventure is born mute but possesses a very special gift: he can hear things from all around the world, including flowers that grow, colors that call to him, and marshmallows toasting. His father’s ghost often visits him, and together they have conversations. It is through these exchanges that Bonaventure learns that there are many secrets lurking inside the house. Two items in particular must be removed before true healing can begin for his mother and grandmother.
"Debut novelist Rita Leganski tells a lovely and magical tale about a mute boy and how the love that surrounds him --- both familial and spiritual --- transcends time and place."
Bonaventure excitedly begins kindergarten only to quickly realize that other kids cannot, in fact, hear colors: “What bothered Bonaventure was that no one else even said they’d heard the color orange. Why was he the only one? On the first day of kindergarten when he’d seen all the other children, he’d felt himself part of something, a child the same as the others. He’d hoped that maybe his way of hearing would spread itself around, but now he knew that it didn’t, and he wasn’t really part of something at all. Bonaventure had no idea how to be different.”
Recognizing that Bonaventure can hear everything but needs another means of communicating with the world at large, Dancy and Letice hire Gabe Riley to teach everyone in the family sign language. Gabe slowly falls in love with Dancy, who six years later is still grieving for William: “Dancy did not know of Gabe’s feeling, but Bonaventure could hear them and he thought they sounded like a pearl that forms in concentric layers of kindness to protect a helpless oyster from a hurtful grain of sand.”
When Bonaventure’s beloved housekeeper, Mrs. Silvey, suffers a brain aneurysm and suddenly dies, Letice hires Trinidad Prefontaine, who has just recently moved to New Orleans after inheriting her aunt’s house. Trinidad is a kindred spirit who knows voodoo and hoodoo, and will play an integral part in helping Bonaventure heal his family.
In the meantime, Letice, obsessed with discovering the identity of her son’s killer, hires a private investigator. “The Wanderer” is in jail but can barely speak, since part of his jaw is missing as a result of an injury during WWII. He had no identification on him after shooting William, and Letice is convinced that “William’s life had been payment for a terrible sin she’d committed.”
Dancy decides to open up a beauty shop with the insurance money she collects after William’s death. William still visits Bonaventure, eventually directing him to his mother’s closet, where a hidden note contains clues to Dancy’s secret, but the sound emanating from it is so sinister and scary that Bonaventure quickly runs away. He also notices a sad sound emanating from a relic in his grandmother’s chapel inside the home. When he finally removes the note and the relic from where they’ve been hidden, he discovers that both of these items hold keys to the past and the guilt his mother and grandmother feel over his father’s murder.
THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW is evocative of a particular time and place, that being 1950s New Orleans. Debut novelist Rita Leganski tells a lovely and magical tale about a mute boy and how the love that surrounds him --- both familial and spiritual --- transcends time and place. Bonaventure absorbs that love and, by returning it to his family, sets them free.
Reviewed by Jennifer Romanello on March 1, 2013