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Border Songs    by Jim Lynch order for
Border Songs
by Jim Lynch
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Brandon Vanderkool is twenty-three years old, six feet, eight inches tall and he has just started a new job as a border patrolman. He is described as being 'not a spindly six-eight either, but 232 pounds of meat and bone stacked vertically beneath a lopsided smile and a defiant wedge of hair that gave him the appearance of an unfinished sculpture.' He has severe dyslexia, which continues to plague him as an adult, even though he tries to speak slowly when he's nervous so the words don't come out backwards. His love for birds has led him to grow up wandering the area just south of the Canadian border in northern Washington State, where he has lived all of his life with his farmer father and his doting mother. His mother encouraged his interest in animals and birds as well as his art. He is an untrained artist who seems compelled to paint wildly colorful pictures or build odd structures from stones, slate, or pieces of wood that inspire him at odd moments.

His father, worried about Brandon's future, has pushed and finagled him into the border patrol job to get him off the dairy farm that the family owns. Now Brandon tentatively embraces his new job, making money 'traversing the streets of his life' and doing 'what he'd always loved doing' looking 'closely at everything over and over again.' With his artist's soul and his close attention to detail, Brandon proves to be an amazingly effective border patrolman, finding illegal aliens, drug runners, and much, much more that his fellow patrolmen either haven't noticed or didn't want to find. Brandon doesn't understand the effect that his size has on those he arrests, and frequently he handcuffs and arrests people without even having his gun with him.

Brandon is the most interesting character in Border Songs, but we also become acquainted with his father Norm, whose dairy has fallen on really hard times, and who worries non-stop about his cows, his son, and his wife, who seems to be losing her memory. Across the ditch that is the only evidence of a border lives their Canadian neighbor Wayne Rousseau, a retired college professor, and his daughter Madeline, both of whom are involved with marijuana. Wayne smokes it for legal relief from his arthritis, and Madeline is being pulled into the illegal business of growing and selling it. Brandon and Madeline grew up together, and Brandon still feels close to her. The story skips around from one to another of these characters, but Brandon's is by far the primary and most interesting tale because he does so well in his job, and he suffers so from his dyslexia and his desire to keep from hurting people.

I truly loved this book, for Brandon's story, and for all the funny and sad things that happened to him and the others. The fears about illegal aliens are accelerated and spoofed with Wayne calling taunts across the ditch to poor Norm about American paranoia and feelings of superiority to the Canadians, while Norm is just struggling to keep his cows and his dairy alive. We suspend our disbelief at some of the more unusual happenings because the characters are so well-drawn and we get pulled into the story, wanting to know what happens next and next and next.

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