“Everyone remembered the night Brandon Vanderkool flew across the Crawfords’ snowfield and tackled the Prince and Princess of Nowhere.”
Dyslexic, awkwardly tall and probably suffering from mild autism, Brandon Vanderkool reluctantly patrols the border between America and Canada. He’d rather be helping his father with the family dairy farm, but Norm Vanderkool wants more for his son. So Brandon has returned home to Blaine, Washington, as the BP’s newest rookie. Through either dumb luck, a well-working sixth sense, or some high degree of shrewdness, he reels in drug dealers, people smugglers, prostitutes, suspected terrorists, and all sorts of illegal contraband. He just can’t help it. Suddenly, he’s the town hero, and his fame starts to spread beyond Blaine.
Brandon’s success astounds everyone, especially his father. Things at the dairy haven’t been going so well lately, and while Brandon’s mother seems to be flirting with Alzheimer’s, his father is teetering on the edge of financial collapse, and fighting a breakout of embarrassment at his son’s peculiarities. You see, Brandon is completely mesmerized by birds. All birds. In fact, he tries to mimic them whenever possible with wing flapping, nest building or feather studies.
In order to battle nerves, Norm retreats into the comfort of his long-drawn-out boat-building project. Only now, the boat is becoming more of a money pit, and Norm’s hopes for finishing it while his wife can still enjoy it with him are starting to fade. When several of his cows take sick, it feels like the last straw. But land perched on the border has a value to some inscrutable people. Norm learns that a simple arrangement whereby his land can be used during the night, no questions asked, can be quite lucrative. Easy money. Just how bad does Norm’s luck have to get before he jumps at the chance?
Further feeding his frustration is his neighbor, retired Canadian professor Wayne Rousseau, a maddening fellow who jumps the ditch between countries just to come over and harass Norm. And he knows which buttons to push for greatest effect. However, Norm has a few zingers, too. Wayne’s daughter, Madeline, is skirting the dark side of business on the border. Norm isn’t sure quite what that business is exactly, but Madeline hasn’t been looking too healthy lately and there’s no way that her lifestyle could be supported by her job at the local nursery. Unfortunately, Brandon has become obsessed with Madeline, an interest that isn’t mutual.
These are just some of the stories in BORDER SONGS. Other Blaine residents have their stories, too, creating a bustling hive of activity. There’s no great mystery to this book --- just a slice of life in a small border town, with people confronted by problems they must find ways to fix. In Brandon Vanderkool, author Jim Lynch (THE HIGHEST TIDE) has given us a delightfully memorable character. Brandon’s dogged fascination with birds, his innocent approach to each new day, and his staunchly loyal attitudes are refreshing in these days of cynicism, where rude is the new cool, and there is escalating competition to elicit the most shock from readers.
BORDER SONGS is no fluff piece, either. It confronts important contemporary issues, exposes some of our solutions as giant wastes of money, and shows how one person really can make a difference. Besides, it is a darned good read.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 22, 2010
- Publication Date: June 16, 2009
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Knopf
- ISBN-10: 030727117X
- ISBN-13: 9780307271174