Today was the first real day that felt like Spring. I spent most of it listening to birdsong, reading out on my porch, and soaking up some much needed Vitamin D. I threw open the windows (shutters & sash) and let the breeze blow through my stuffy apartment; I did laundry and hung it out on the line to dry. This last was a careful and creative process, involving the use of many step-ladders, hops, and precarious balancing but there was nothing else for it. There’s just something about the smell of sheets dried in the sweet sunshine – and for some unfathomable reason the other tenants in my apartment building won’t concede to adjusting the clothesline to bunny-height (selfish bastards, the lot of ’em). It was worth it, though. Despite the challenge, I was left with the feeling that it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
So, after completing my laundry circus act, I came inside, took off my coat, put on my cardigan, took off my penny loafers, put on my house sneakers (singing all the while), and waited for Mr. McFeely to deliver the mail.
While I was waiting, I wrote this review. I hope you like it:
Title: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
Author: Rita Leganski
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Paperback: 374 pages
Is There a Pooka in This Book?: Not this time.
The eponymous hero of the novel “The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow” is a little boy born in Louisiana in the late 1940s to a new, grieving widow. When he’s born, he utters not a cry and he remains silent throughout his childhood. Dancy, Bonaventure’s young mother, and his grandmothers, Leticia and Adelaide, worry about his lack but they don’t know about his incredible gain. They don’t know that he’s so quiet because he’s listening. He can hear colors, the history of household objects, and most importantly, he can hear the ghost of his father speaking to him. Bonaventure must use his super-hearing to help uncover the mystery surrounding William’s murder. Along the way, he’ll help to assuage Dancy’s guilt, relieve Leticia’s suffering, and ensure that Adelaide gets hers. He’ll also help Trinidad Prefontaine, a practitioner of New Orleans hoodoo and his soul twin, find her Purpose.
This is beautiful, fast-paced, historical fiction about love and loss, healing and faith. The author lists Flannery O’Connor (“A Good Man is Hard to Find”, et al), Harper Lee (“To Kill a Mockingbird”), Carson McCullers (“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter”), and Gabriel García Márquez (“One-Hundred Years of Solitude”) amongst her favorite writers and their influence is readily (and awesomely) apparent. Can you even imagine combining Flannery O’Connor and Gabriel García Márquez?! It’s crazy… and fantastic.
What Made the Story Totally Worth Eating:
1. It has wide appeal.
Unlike a lot of the books that I read, this story’s not just for weirdo pookas; it’s for tender ladies, too. It’s tinged with bits of the extraordinary and the unbelievable but I feel 100% comfortable recommending it to those who wouldn’t normally touch a fantasy book with a ten-foot pole. Something about the setting excuses those bits. In New Orleans, a kid with jazzy hearing is hardly the weirdest thing in town, even if his skills are nearly divine. Bonaventure’s gift may be uncommon and unfamiliar but the human emotions are real enough and deep enough that we don’t feel as if we’re in alien territory. Readers may not know the unique sound that regret makes or be able to hear the singular music of joy – but we know what they feel like, and that’s enough. This could just as easily be your next meal in a healthy diet of magical realist novels as it could be the next book you pick up after “Sarah’s Key.” It’s that bendy and adaptable.
2. Bonaventure has great nicknames.
Like every young girl (pooka or human), sometimes I think about having children. I don’t think about it in any realistic or rational way. I don’t imagine what it will be like to be a mom. I don’t imagine sleepless nights or feeding times, or what it will be like to listen to my baby’s little heartbeat. I imagine – pretty much exclusively – what I’ll name my child. My girl child. And I don’t just imagine what her full name will be but what her nickname will be, as well. My favorites right now are Moira May, a combination of “fate” and “possibility,” making my future child an interesting little conundrum (nicknamed “M&M”), and Annie Macha — Macha being an Irish goddess who can outrun any horse, and, according to medieval legend, the only queen in the List of High Kings of Ireland (nicknamed “Annie Haha”, after Minnie Haha; she’ll laugh a lot, little Annie). Needless to say, I really appreciate a good nickname – and Bonaventure Arrow’s are legion. In my notes, I call him “Bonny” or “Bonny Boy,” after the English folk song and am secretly a little disappointed that Dancy doesn’t ever do the same. What she does think to call him, though, is always quality. She calls him “Adventure Arrow, or Venture Forth Arrow, or any number of pet names like Sweetie-pie or Whirly-bird, depending on her mood” (74). Admittedly, the penultimate is lacking but the rest are clever and adorable. Maybe I should just write a novel instead of having kids…
3. The language is gorgeous.
The best way I can think to demonstrate this claim is to give examples of the different things that Bonaventure can hear. First, we have “Everyone would have been shocked to know that he could hear such things as the blink of an eye from across the room, or the sound of a falling flower petal before it hit the floor. They would never have been able to fathom that the scope of his hearing wasn’t even accurately gauged by the sounds of blinking eyes and falling petals, or even by the sounds of shooting stars” (122). Then, “Within a year, Bonaventure Arrow could hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops” (128). And, while observing fresh-baked bread and cinnamon rolls being made, “he listened to the dough’s pfff-pfff breathing, and to the hiss of the melting butter, and to the grit-sandy voice of light brown sugar. He was a one-boy audience for objects that liked to tell stories” (155). Finally, “By June of 1956, six-year old Bonaventure’s hearing went beyond vibrations and out and away from frequencies and wavelengths. It sliced through pressure. It defeated time and space. He liked to curl up in his favorite chair on the sunporch and listen to exploding sunspots, and sometimes on nights he couldn’t fall asleep, he listened to stars being born” (171). He hears mist like angels’ wings, candles sputtering, and a bluebottle fly’s tiny, light footsteps on a marmalade spoon. Bonaventure collects objects associated with beautiful sounds and keeps them inside of a treasure box that he hides under his bed; if he could see the pages of his own story, I’m sure he’d place Leganski’s ink-stained sentences inside the box.
4. You get to learn about Louisiana culture.
I now know the difference between hoodoo and voodoo, how to make a gris-gris, what I should do if I encounter the loup-garoux in the woods, the definitions of “wangas” and “goofer dust”, what a traditional Louisiana tomb looks like, how to set-up a proper altar, and that there are such things as “teatime tassies” and that I want them in my belly. Useful knowledge, that’s what I specialize in. If you want to know these things, too, you’ll have to read the book (or at least comment on my post and ask me nicely – and perhaps offer me your first born. So I can name her).
5. It’s sentimental.
It was hard to read “The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow” with my contacts in because my eyes just became watery seas and my lenses were men overboard. It was also hard to read it while wearing my glasses because my wet lashes kept brushing up against the glass, creating teary, salty smudges. (If you have 20/20 eyesight, you’re in luck and needn’t worry. You’d think I’d have better eyesight with all the carrots I eat). Reading “The Silence…” wasn’t like reading “Bloodroot,” though. It wasn’t soul-crushing and unrelenting. I don’t feel broken after having read Leganski’s novel – because it’s not about breaking. It’s about mending.
What I Spit Back Out:
1. It’s sentimental.
#1 except for #5. If #5, then #1< #5. Of course 1< 5. What I mean to say is that although I thoroughly enjoyed the book’s sentimentality, it lessens its wide appeal. While I’d feel comfortable recommending the book to a vast array of women, I don’t know that I’d recommend it to a man. It felt very gendered. I don’t know if that makes it less-than. Certainly a female-gendered book shouldn’t be any less valuable than a male-gendered book, but wouldn’t it be best for a book not to feel gendered at all? I’d like to read a review of “The Silence…” from a man’s perspective. In fact, I think I’ll seek some out post-post (if they even exist). While I read those, you should read Leganski’s novel. It’s a beautiful read for a beautiful day, recommended by your beautiful (and modest) neighbor, the Pooka.
Pooka Rating: 4 out of 5 Nibbles.