Customer Review

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE BIRDS IN THE NIGHTTIME, 5 Mar 2010
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This review is from: Border Songs (Hardcover)
Jim Lynch's second book, "Border songs" is a whimsical, entertaining and at times touching book. It introduces us to several special worlds, dairy farming,marijuana cultivation, smuggling, border enforcement, bird watching, small town hardiness and autism.

"Border songs" is set in Blaine, Washington in the Pacific Northwest on a small stretch of the unimaginably long and largely unmarked US-Canadian border. Struggling dairy farmers live uneasily beside "Microsoft millionaires," retired in their thirties, and an increasingly large and increasingly affluent community of "bud" growers and smugglers - old-timers who have succumbed to Mammon, as well as interlopers. Thousands of illegal immigrants of astonishingly diverse origin and smugglers of drugs and arms pore across the boundary -" as thin as a rumor" - barely inconvenienced by the overstretched and largely timid ("Roadie" = retired, on active duty) Border Patrol.

Brandon Vanderkool is a 6ft 8in rookie agent. He is autistic. On the one hand he is a innocent giant , given to strange arm movements, struggling to write reports and to string together sentences ("lock your heads on top of your fingers".... "You laugh when you are beautiful".. and so on) and having to exert all of his mental capability to read the simplest of body language. On the other hand, he is exceptionally gifted - he has an extraordinary affinity for birds, he is an artist of striking genius, and he has a sixth sense for finding smugglers and illegals. Brandon becomes, in the parlance of the BP, a "shiiit magnet," landing record catch after record catch. One day, he runs down a famous alleged terrorist. Blaine is inundated with Feds, congressmen, reporters and "Minutemen" vigilantes who redeploy from the Mexican border. Homeland Security funds wash across the landscape, resulting in motion-controlled cameras, drones, blimps and helicopters. The town's elderly cancer victim is arrested when the residue of his radiotherapy sets off an agent's state-of-the art dirty bomb detector.

In addition to the oddly attractive Brandon, Lynch introduces us to a range of interesting and quirky characters: Norm, Brandon's father whose world is falling apart, Wayne, a cranky, generally stoned, retired Canadian professor whose hobby is to bait his southern neighbors, Madeleine, Wayne's green-fingered (guess her area of horticultural specialty) and drunkish daughter, for whom Brandon harbors a lifelong crush, Dionne, Brandon's tough trainer with a soft heart, Toby a drug kingpin who acts more like a Harvard MBA than a wise guy and Sophie, a mystery woman who lives beyond her means as the town's masseuse. Lynch takes us into all their lives, with wonderfully descriptive prose and a good ear for dialogue. He is especially strong at conveying Brandon's strange perspective on the world.

The novel, however, is indecisive in its key. It cannot decide whether it is a detective story, a social comedy, a wicked satire of current affairs, or a sensitive exploration of a learning disability. It is all these things, but it does not quite integrate them or get the balance right. This is a noticeable flaw but not one that should discourage prospective readers. There are many strong qualities to compensate.
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