- Fizzy Thoughts: Through Black Spruce

Through Black Spruce

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Through Black Spruce
Joseph Boyden
April 2009
368 pages

Me reading this book was a total fluke. I was browsing the shelves at Borders (which honestly, isn't as much fun as browsing the shelves at B&N, but Borders has free parking) when I came across this one. First, the title piqued my interest. Then, the cover. And then the description. Plus, it's set in Canada, and I tend to have pretty good luck with Canada, book-wise.

The story alternates between narrators. Will Bird is a notorious bush pilot. Currently in a coma, he reflects back on the circumstances that have landed him in his current situation. His niece, Annie, visits her uncle in the hospital. In an effort to reengage her uncle in the world of the conscious, she tells him of her search for her missing sister, Suzanne, a search that took her far from their frozen, remote homeland. As Annie journeyed from Toronto, to Montreal and then to New York, she gets caught up in the same shallow world of modeling and drugs that her sister was living in. As Annie describes her search to Will, and Will narrates his past to Annie (not out loud, obviously, 'cause he's unconscious, but he is talking to Annie in his head), the reader comes to understand how they each came to be where they're at. Okay, that was a lame sentence, but I don't know how else to say it. Their two stories eventually intersect, and it's the combination of figuring what exactly happened to Annie and Will (and the missing Suzanne) and the language that makes this story so engaging.

I loved the author's use of language in this book. The Birds are Cree, and the syntax of their English is just different enough from my Californian English to be intriguing. Here are a few excerpts from Chapter 1, which is in Will's voice.

"Me, I preferred the first option, that Mother Nature was one angry slut. She’d try and kill you first chance she got.You’d screwed with her for so long that she was happy to eliminate you. But more than that, the first option allowed me to get angry right away, to blame some other force for all my troubles.The panic came much quicker this way, but it was going to come anyways, right?"

"And so me, I climbed out of my cockpit and onto the wing on that frigid afternoon in my jean jacket and running shoes, walked along the wing, fearful of the bush and the cold and a shitty death all around me. Push bad thoughts away. One thing at a time. First things first. I crawled quick as I could, trying to stand and walk, and I frankensteined my way to the trees and began snapping dry twigs from a dead spruce.

After I made a pile, I reached into my chest pocket, breaking the ice from the material that felt hard as iron now. My fingers had lost all feel. I reached for my cigarettes, struggled to pull one from my pack, and clinked open the lighter. I’d decided that if the lighter worked, I’d enjoy a cigarette as I started a fire. If the lighter didn’t work, I’d freeze to death and searchers would find me with an unlit smoke in my mouth, looking cool as the Marlboro Man. On the fifteenth thumb roll I got the lighter going."

"The snow’s deep here, nieces. I’m tired, but I have to keep walking. I’m so tired, but I’ve got to get up or I’ll freeze to death. Talking to you, it keeps me warm."

The author also peppers his characters' speech with the word ever, which as far as I can tell is a handy catch-all for totally, right on, whoa, as if, and probably many other things. I know "eh" is a Canadian thing, but I've never heard ever used to the extent that all of characters in this book use it.

Anyways...I just loved this book, although I don't know that I'd recommend it to everyone. It's a bit slow...it's beauty is both in the language and the slow discovery of what happened to both Will and Annie.

10 comment(s):

Ti said...

I like to browse B&N too. The Borders by me just sucks. No other way to say it.

I think it's okay for a book to be on the slowish side if there is beauty to be found elsewhere.. such as the writing. When you mentioned it, it made me think of a flower in bloom.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Oh gosh, I fell in love with the passages you quoted here!! I'm going to have to read this one!

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for the review...seems that this one was a pleasant surprise for you, those are always fun!

lilly said...

The quoted passages are enough to convince me that I would love to read the book in its entirety. Also, the fact that the use of language and not the action itself is the main attribute of this novel difintely makes me want to read it.

Ali said...

I think I'd like this, and I love that you just happened upon it at the bookstore. Seems so rare these days to find a book that way!

Beth F said...

Thanks for the review and the quotes. This sounds like a must read for me. Wow.

bermudaonion said...

I'm glad you mentioned that it's slow - sometimes I'm in the mood for a slow read like that.

Nymeth said...

I really like the language. Hooray for random finds that turn out to be great!

Joanne said...

My mother in law is the hugest supporter of Canadian authors. She read this the day it was released and has been trying to convince me ever since to read it asap. Basically her opinion - the story's okay, but the beauty of the words is what makes it amazing.

I said I'd read it eventually, but she still reminds me everytime I see her :)

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

"that Mother Nature was one angry slut" got my attention. Sometimes the beauty of the language makes up for a less than stellar story because the words stay with you and take on a life of their own.

Sounds like a lucky find (I prefer the B&N near here to the Borders as well ... I think it depends on the store itself, they're not the same across the chains)

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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