Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I was getting ready to submit this post when I checked my Facebook page to find a note from my brother-in-law. Turns out that today's tide is the lowest of the year and tomorrow's will be a minus 2 (this is in Bandon, Oregon. The tides up here should be comparable, right?). This was the perfect note to read when writing about Jim Lynch's books and, when you are done reading The Highest Tide, you will feel compelled to head to the water's edge to look at stuff.

I just read Jim Lynch's new book, Border Songs and got a chance to hear him speak about it last night. I truly love the way the man writes.

Jim wrote The Highest Tide a few years ago and it quickly jumped to one of my top favorite books of all times. Funny, worrisome, a really good read, The Highest Tide is the story of a teen aged boy who discovers a giant squid washed up on the shores of Puget Sound.

When interviewed by the press about the find, he becomes known as a kind of young environmental prophet like his idol, Rachel Carson. He really isn't a prophet, just observant and worried about the changes he sees around the Sound.

The book is hysterically funny (air guitar champion of the world) and quite poignant (one of his best friends is an old woman who lives, literally, over the Sound) and a good story where the landscape is also one of the characters. When you live in a place like ours, dominated by such a body of water, you can really appreciate a book that describes the penis lengths of goeduck oysters, the quickness of tide changes, and the smell of a beach at low tide.

(A little aside: I write on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings while listening to Steve Sher's show on KUOW and today, because someone miscalculated an interview, he is re-running a show he did earlier this year with Curtis Ebbesmeyer, the author of a book called Flotsametrics (Collins, 26.95). Don't you love serendipity? I'm writing about The Highest Tide, things washing up on shores, and local guy, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, the reigning master of ocean currents, flotsam and jetsam, and the Nike shoes and rubber duckies washing up on shore, is on the radio!)

Now, in Jim's new book, Border Songs, we drive through the landscape of the border lands between Canada and Washington.

This is the story of a man who is a bit adrift in his world and is trying to find a way to anchor himself in it. The people on both sides of the border are just trying to get by in hard times. Dairy work is going south and there are small mansions springing up like mushrooms, occupied by wealthy weekend and summer folk, where little farms used to sit. Jobs are gone, drugs are plentiful, his mom's memory is sketchy, his dad's cows are sick, and so Brandon joins the Border Patrol.

Brandon is an awkward man, big and uneasy with people, and he drives back and forth along the two foot ditch that makes up the border between Canada and the US looking for illegal crossings and drugs. More comfortable with birds, many of them listed and counted up throughout the narrative, Brandon pays close attention to the world around him, constantly noting changes in color and scent, the changes in birdsong, using what he sees and notes to make art.

I don't think he sets out to be a good border guard, he spends a lot of time making frost angels and leaf bridges out in clearings in the woods, but he seems to always be right where someone is trying to cross the raspberry fields with buckets of pot or behind someone transporting illegal aliens in the trunk of a car. He eventually becomes the unlikely hero of his town which puts him smack dab in the middle of the public eye and at the top of the local drug runner's list of people to watch. All Brandon wants to do is take care of the cows, have a date with Maddie (his long-time crush who lives on the other side of the border), and make art that pleases him.

Again, Jim has given us characters we can fall a little in love with, and a view out the window we can poke our heads into, as we roll along with the Border Patrol.

(Highest Tide is a great book for teens and adults. Bloomsbury, paperback and hardcover. Border Songs is published by Knopf, hardcover only, 25.95. There is a beautiful, specially designed for Border Songs, limited edition broadside- a piece of typeset art- that can be yours with the purchase of the book from Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park. It's really cool.)

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