Saturday, June 1, 2013

Review: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski

Sometimes you hear about a big buzz book that just doesn't really intrigue you. But then you keep hearing about it. And you inevitably pick it up each time you visit any store that has books in it (because if you're a book person, you can't help but wander past the book sections of even non-bookstores). And the cover appeals to you even if the cover copy doesn't. And then the cover copy starts to creep up on you and you start to think about all the people you've heard mention this book, even if you haven't asked their opinion (and even if they haven't given one). And then if you're me, you end up buying the book even though you tell yourself you really shouldn't. And that is how I came to own a copy of Rita Leganski's novel, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, despite all indications that this was not entirely my cup of tea. Sometimes I should listen to my gut feelings and other times I'm rewarded for ignoring the inner voice that warns me off. Rita Leganski's The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is one of those books that started showing up everywhere, whispering to me to ignore my usual feelings about magical realism. And so eventually, it came home with me, as so many books do.

Conceived in love and born into great sorrow, Bonaventure Arrow is an exceptional child. He is completely mute but his hearing is so acute he can hear things no longer of this world, such as the lingering ghost of his father, murdered by a drifter dubbed The Wanderer before he was born, and the stories that inanimate objects tell. This unusual child has been chosen to heal his family, to release them from the deep and enduring hurts of the past, and to remind them of the love they also possess. Starting with his parents' courtship long before he was conceived, William and Dancy are soul mates who overcome their very different upbringings to be together. Their love story is touching and sweet, if too short. Dancy's mother, Adelaide, is an evangelical religious zealot who belittles and judges her daughter even while being the worst sort of hypocrite herself. William's mother, Letice, is a wealthy devout Catholic who dotes on her only son although she is forever shrouded in a cloak of sadness. When William is inexplicably gunned down at the grocery store one night while his hugely pregnant wife waits for him at home, the world shatters for Dancy and Letice. Rather than going home to her own horrible mother, Dancy retreats to William's childhood home in Bayou Cymbaline, where she will give birth to her silent, watchful baby boy and where he will thrive under the care of his mother, grandmere, a prescient housekeeper and practitioner of gentle hoodoo named Trinidad who will help him heal his family, and a quiet sign language teacher named Gabe who will give Bonaventure a voice.

This novel is rife with lavish description, of sounds, of place, and of possibility. The descriptions are imaginative and evocative but often they overwhelm the plot, detouring the reader right out of the story. And in truth, given the way that Bonaventure's hearing is described, his world should be a cacophonous riot of noise. But his magical gift is only in evidence when it is necessary to the tale, such as when he listens to his dead father explain the two things that he must do to help his mother and grandmother heal and move past their tragedies. He is the only vehicle by which guilt, atonement, and forgiveness can be faced and achieved.

Bonaventure was a charming character and the story was told in a dreamy, clever sort of way but it was still quite easy to put it down and walk away. Perhaps this is a result of the languid, ethereal feel to the novel or perhaps it can be blamed on the magical elements, those bits that are so far out of my usual reading realm or perhaps it is the fact that the mystery of The Wanderer was not really a mystery, exposed too easily. Leganski does capture the flavor of Louisiana, creatively weaving it through with several vastly different religious traditions, and her story is overall a good one; it just didn't come completely together for me.

1 comment:

  1. OK; yet ANOTHER one to add to my to-buy list on Goodreads. What a great review; this sounds fabulous (and I DO like magical realism ever since I read Saints in Limbo by River Jordan (I loved that book, and never would I have thought that it would open up this new genre to me). This is why I love visiting book blogs; I'm always finding new books that I might not have grabbed up.


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