Jim Lynch at Learning Center, Oct. 10-11; win a copy of his new novel "Border Songs"
When we arranged to have novelist Jim Lynch appear at the Learning Center to be a Sourdough Speaker a year ago, our timing couldn’t have been better — Jim’s then-forthcoming novel Border Songs is set in Whatcom County near the foothills of the North Cascades and is populated with an astonishing amount of natural history of birds of our region. Border Songs was released last summer to great critical acclaim, including a review in Crosscut.com that claimed Jim “could be the best new novelist in the region since David Guterson rolled out Snow Falling on Cedars in 1995″ and a similar rave from author Howard Frank Mosher: “Border Songs is a masterwork, and Jim Lynch, for my money, is our best new storyteller since Larry McMurtry: deeply in touch with the natural world, the absurdities of our era, and the hearts and minds of his unforgettable and endlessly surprising characters.” (Amazon.com has a compilation of praise for the new novel too.)
We’ve got a copy of Border Songs to give away to one of our readers– to enter the running, leave a comment at the end of this blog mentioning a book you’ve read recently, fiction or nonfiction, that included a healthy amount of nature in it. We’ll randomly chose a winner from everyone who leaves a comment at the end of next week.
Jim will be at the Learning Center Oct. 10-11, reading from his novels and discussing what it is like writing fiction set in Washington State, as part of our intimate Sourdough Speaker Series. For only $95, participants get to experience Jim’s presentation as well as enjoy a sit-down dinner and overnight accommodations in our lodges; breakfast and a naturalist-led activity the next morning is included too. We know of at least one book club that has been reading Jim’s books and will be joining us — what a great idea!
We want to extend a special thanks to Jim, and all our Sourdough Speakers, for coming up to the North Cascades to talk about their work — they all appear at the Learning Center on their own dime, helping us to raise money to support our various Youth Programs designed to connect the next generation with the natural world.
Here’s a book review I wrote on Border Songs earlier this summer for the Cascadia Weekly:
Tides vs. Borders
Jim Lynchâ€™s novels explore back corners of Washington State
by Christian Martin
Jim Lynch hit on something sweet and surprising with his 2005 debut novel *The Highest Tide*. Readers fell in love with it in a big way, first here in the Pacific Northwest, then across the country and eventually around the world. Awarded the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’, translated in to eight different languages in 20 different countries and adapted for the stage in a successful run at Seattle’s Book-It theater, *The Highest Tide* proved to be quirky and smart. Lynch’s prose is rich with natural detail that brings the ecology of southern Puget Sound to vivid, squirming life and his plot peopled with believable characters and interactions.
Not since David Guterson and the *Snow Falling on Cedars* phenomenon have Pacific Northwest readers’ hopes been so high for a local author’s sophomore follow-up. With the release of *Border Songs*, Lynch’s literary strategy seems to be based on the mantra, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” His new novel is built on the familiar foundation of his first, employing a very similar storyline, pace, tone and intention.
In *The Highest Tide*, the protagonist Miles Oâ€™Malley is a shy, sensitive 13-year old boy, a good-natured innocent that doesn’t fit in with others around him but finds solace (and highly unusual discoveries) in wild places.
In *Border Songs*, the protagonist Brandon is a shy, sensitive 23-year old young man, a good-natured innocent that doesnâ€™t fit in with others around him but finds solace (and highly unusual discoveries) in wild places.
Differences exist, to be sure: Miles has a unique bond with the sea life found on the beaches of his home near Olympia; Brandon finds connection with the bird life in his home in northern Whatcom County. Much of Milesâ€™ introspective withdrawal comes from escaping his parentâ€™s bitter marriage, while Brandonâ€™s awkwardness arises from a condition that resembles Asperger Syndrome. Miles becomes a sensation in the media and with a religious cult; Brandon becomes an unlikely hero for the Border Patrol.
There are many pleasures to be had in reading *Border Songs,* and I expect that our corner of the country will be especially receptive owing to the novel’s aforementioned setting. The story takes place on and around the US-Canadian border, and pivotal scenes take place in the unlikely settings of Blaine, Ferndale, White Rock and Semiahmoo. The story examines the overlapping tropes of homeland security, marijuana smuggling, terrorism and political posturing, surveying these contemporary border issues through the eyes of a wide cast of eccentric characters. From dope growers to federal officers, illegal immigrants to dairy farmers, truck drivers to casino boosters, these pages are full of true-to-life northern Whatcomites living along the 49th parallel (IS THIS THE RIGHT #?).
Many of the local details are spot-on too — the character of the Nooksack River, the smell of manure on the wind, the high demand for BC bud, even the seasonal bird life — all demonstrating Lynchâ€™s affinity for northwestern Washington State. The sense of place that the author creates is only possible through humility, a slowed-down attentiveness and sensitivity to nature.
All in all, Lynch has delivered the finest literary treatment of our region since Annie Dillard’s *The Living*. But whereas *The Living* is often seen as stern, morbid and uncompromising, *Border Songs* is whimsical, sensitive and full of heart.