Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
I requested this book from the library when it was shortlisted for the 2008 Giller Prize. During my four-month wait on the request list, it won. I requested the other four books on the shortlist as well but I’m still waiting for them. It might be awhile before I know if I agree with the judges. Right now though, I’m inclined to agree!
Boyden tells a compelling story with Through Black Spruce. I didn’t realize immediately that the chapters alternate between the story told by Will Bird, and the story told by Annie Bird. This initial intertwining of the narrative imposed a sense upon me that Native families live interconnected lives. That sense stayed strong as Will and Annie’s stories converged on each other. The hurtling of the narratives towards their collision stumbles a little at the end, but it’s still a great crash.
Will Bird is a legendary Cree bush pilot, now lying in a coma in a hospital in his hometown of Moose Factory, Ontario. His niece Annie Bird, beautiful and self-reliant, has returned from her own perilous journey to sit beside his bed. Broken in different ways, the two take silent communion in their unspoken kinship, and the story that unfolds is rife with heartbreak, fierce love, ancient blood feuds, mysterious disappearances, plane crashes, murders, and the bonds that hold a family, and a people, together. As Will and Annie reveal their secrets – the tragic betrayal that cost Will his family; Annie’s desperate search for her missing sister, the famous model Suzanne – a remarkable saga of resilience and destiny takes shape. From the dangerous bush country of Northern Ontario to the drug-fuelled glamour of the Manhattan club scene, Joseph Boyden tracks his characters with a keen eye and a rare empathy for the empty places concealed within the heart. This book establishes Boyden as a writer of startling originality and uncommon power.