Sunday, January 17, 2010

Border Songs by Jim Lynch

I read Jim Lynch's Border Songs at a fever clip (for me): cover to cover in 4 days.

It was a disturbing book for me; perhaps I identified a bit too closely with Norm, the crotchety old dairy farmer whose dreams all seem to be vanishing out of reach:

The boat had already swallowed eleven years. Eleven. Why hadn't anyone warned him about wasting what time remained on a project he'd never finish? He was thirty-five short, probably forty. And that left the cabin rough. Homey, isn't she, Jeanette? He glanced around his darkening farm. Could he blame Washington Mutual for balking at a loan? Who wanted to gamble on a snake-bit dairy? His eyes settled on the boat barn. A monument to his ego? No. To his incompetence? Probably. To his insanity? Definitely.

The book is beautiful, but tragic. Things go wrong, then worse, then just horribly wrong. At times, long periods of time, I was quite distressed, and wasn't sure if I wanted to finish the book.

But I did, and I'm glad I did, for it was a very enjoyable book, and a wonderful ending.

And Lynch's writing is wonderful, fluid and spiritual:

A dozen barn swallows had gathered on the telephone and power lines looping from Sophie's house to Northwood. Another dozen were approaching from far north of the ditch, then an incoming cloud -- multiple clouds, actually -- that broke up as they neared the three lines, the birds spinning like ice skaters or stunt pilots before lining up side by side and carrying on in high, grating voices that sounded like glass marbles rubbing against one another. He tacked toward their temporary roost at a forty-five degree angle, the din of Sophie's party fading beneath the excited banter of the assembling acrobats. As the sagging lines filled up, they created the illusion that the weight of all these little birds was pulling the telephone poles toward each other and that the swallows were about to be launched from this flexed slingshot.

If you're looking for a book to read, and want something relevant, but a bit different, with a great set of characters, give Border Songs a try.


  1. One of the best novels I've read lately, partly because it IS so distressing. The reader becomes attached to the characters and worries about them as their lives become unhinged. In the middle I, too, wanted to give it up. The author's writing is just as disciplined and beautiful as you say. And the ending made the effort of reading it worthwhile.
    Thanks for the reading and the post.

  2. Bryan,
    Belated thanks for your comments on Border Songs. I appreciate you reading it, and hope you can help spread the word that it's coming out in paperback on July 13. It was picked as among the best books of 2009 by The Washington Post, Toronto Star and others. So it's got some fans, and I hope to get it in more hands soon.
    Jim Lynch