I walked into the used bookstore on Commercial Drive and said to the woman behind the counter that I was looking for a book that would hook me immediately. I explained that I had a 4-month old baby and that I couldn't deal with anything too cerebral. She recommended Through Black Spruce. She said it was one of the best books she had read all year, and that the story was engaging from the first page. She wasn't lying.
Through Black Spruce alternates chapters between Annie and Will, two Cree from a small town in northern Ontario. Will is an old bush pilot, and Annie is his niece. Will's narration is from his hospital bed, where he lies in a coma from an accident that the reader does not find the origins to until the end of the book. Annie sits by his bed and talks to him every night, and through her conversation we find out that her younger sister Suzanne is missing, having disappeared in New York City where she had gone to model. Annie went to the city to look for her, and in doing so she is forced to come to terms with her own jealousies and insecurities related to her sister, and in her life generally. Will describes his own battles throughout his life, remembering old family feuds and experiences in residential school that contributed to his alcoholism and tragedies throughout his life. But the story is far from being doom and gloom. Instead, it is actually a very inspiring read. And beautiful - Boyden has a real gift for bringing the reader into the bitter cold of a northern Ontario winter, hearing the crunch of snow underfoot, holding your breath just before the trigger is pulled during a goose hunt.
I really enjoyed this book. It was not like anything I have ever read before from a subject-matter point-of-view, and I was impressed by Boyden's ability to capture both male and female voices in the narration. I also felt that Boyden really nailed the way that First Nations people speak in terms of cadence and timing, even though you can't actually hear them talking. There is a rhythm to the way many First Nations people speak and tell stories, and that really came through. I learned only after I was done that this was the second book in a series. I have since read Three Day Road, and only hope that Boyden continues to write more so that I can have those to look forward to as well.
MY RATING: 8/10