THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE by Joseph Boyden (Viking Canada), 256 pages, $34 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Joseph Boyden's second novel is stunning at being a million things at once, but at heart it's a page-turning campfire story told by one person to another in hushed tones, heartbeat to heartbeat.
The epic narrative of Through Black Spruce is woven of equal parts violence and tragedy, humour, empathy and forgiveness. It's a muscular novel worthy of all the second-book hype it's getting.
Boyden paints an intricate portrait of contemporary Aboriginal communities around James Bay through the lives of two warring families, descendants of characters from his first novel, the award-winning Three Day Road.
Will Bird, former bush pilot and widower, is in a coma after a run-in with a local Cree crime lord. He's telling the story of how he got there to his nieces, Annie and Suzanne.
Annie sits by his side in the hospital, telling his deep-sleep body the troubles she got into down south looking for the wayward Suzanne, a successful fashion model who mysteriously disappears with her less than reputable boyfriend.
Annie looked for her in Toronto, Montreal and eventually New York City, where she traded beaver traps and snowmobiles for designer dresses, posh parties and a burgeoning modelling career of her own.
Boyden can take his readers almost anywhere and make us believe in the journey - whether it's six solo months in the bush from the inside of one lonely brain, an E-soaked loft party in SoHo or a place under the Gardiner Expressway where an elder cooks goose for a road-weary Annie on the first leg of her quest.
This is a complicated saga that is emotionally satisfying, suspenseful and well crafted.
Boyden reads at the Authors Festival October 30, 8 pm, in the Brigantine Room.