Through Black Spruce

By JOSEPH BOYDEN

In part a sequel to Joseph Boyden’s first book, Three Day Road, this novel concerns itself with Will Bird, the grandson of Xavier Bird from the earlier book. Will is a bush pilot who has a history of wild plane crashes, each of which he has miraculously survived. Currently, however, he lies in coma in a hospital in Mosoonee, 12 miles south of James Bay, the “home of the Cree.” Boyden divides the novel into chapters alternatively narrated by Will (from his comatose mind), and his niece Annie, who sits by his bedside and recounts to him her adventures in Toronto, Montreal, and New York City. She went there in search of her sister Suzanne, now a successful model in Manhattan, who has since lost touch with her family. Boyden has a sharp eye for local sights and an ear for dialogue. The hands-on art of hunting and the resultant fur trade drive the town?s economy, and there is a palpable physicality to the writing, in its evocation of the guts and gore that are part of the trade. However, beneath the quiet of the hinterland bubble undercurrents of hostility. It is Suzanne’s story that ties these disparate elements together. The fact that she eloped with Gus, the problem child of the Netmaker clan (who trade in drugs), points to a dizzying tale, where violence must lie in wait. It is to his credit that in a novel which so authentically captures the vicissitudes of desolate life, Boyden is also able to chronicle the vacant party-hopping sadness of supermodels. Taking a hard look at the tenderness of beasts, Through Black Spruce is a moving portrait of the Canadian outback.