Thoughts Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden, Viking 2008, 359 pages, Winner of the Scotiabank GILLER PRIZE
MOTIVATION for READING: This is a classic BOOK-FOUND-ME example. I was cruising through blogland, found a post somewhere on Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, bounced to a blogger who had commented on that, saw another comment suggesting this book, opened up the InterLibraryLoan website and requested it. Since it was a library book, I HAD to read it and not throw it under the bed for “some day.” Maybe it is more of a ‘Follow the Breadcrumbs’ example.
WHAT IT’s ABOUT: How to describe this…. It’s about a guy, Will Bird, who has been a bush-pilot in Northern Ontario; he’s maybe what they call Native American (even in Canada? Am I US-centric or what?!) Ok, he’s Cree. And we are in his thoughts while he shares what’s been going on with him as if in a letter to his sister’s two daughters. In the meantime, we are introduced to Annie, one of the nieces and she’s trying to talk this uncle into waking up from a coma. Am I sharing too much? Annie is tough – she lives off the land with her wits and smarts. And yet somehow she goes on a trip to Toronto and NYC, lives the life of a fashion model and finds herself a mute guy with whom she has an interesting relationship and he is also quite endearing. And we have a sister who is missing (Annie’s, so the other niece), some BAAAAaad dudes, some awesome friends, some old school Indians and most of this was a pleasure. Although it has some very brutal violence to propel the story along.
WHAT’s GOOD: I was so impressed! I loved the story construct: this overlapping, intertwining of memories between uncle and niece. We go back and forth and yet in two different points or spans of time that somehow meet at the end. I loved Annie – she’s kickass and true to her roots and she’s cool. Will is a dear, too and you can’t help but root for the guy. I also love how they said, “Ever!” a lot. I enjoyed this exposure to a different culture in a different part of the world.
WHAT’s NOT so GOOD: Tiny, picky? I don’t quite love the ending. It works; but it just seemed to run out of steam a bit and wrap up. But overall, I loved this book very much. Oh yea, in the beginning, I almost started keeping track of how many times I read “Black Spruce”. OK, I get it! Certainly these issue of mine are not worth you not trying this book if it intrigues you in the slightest.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Though the story resolution was not as strong for me as the building of the tension of what the mystery is all about, I loved the weaving together of the conversations to each other even though they have no idea the other is listening. Sort of . Here’s what I wrote in goodreads.com:
“A skillfully constructed story told by weaving two characters memories together. Quiet yet packed with violence.”
I’m going to add LOVE, too. The respect and love that this family holds for each other and their heritage is strong and affirming.
RATING: Four Pie Slices of Fruit of the Forest Pie