Béchard (Vandal Love, 2006) comes to terms with the painful legacy of his father, a suicide at 56.
At first, the author’s portrait of his childhood in British Columbia seems yet another snapshot of a dysfunctional family. Dad, reckless and macho, was always beating people up and getting visits from the police; he fought constantly with Mom, who eventually took the kids and returned to her native Virginia. By that time the author was 10, torn between admiration for his father’s swaggering and fear of its consequences, André, as his wife and children called him, had assumed many names since leaving his French-Canadian family in provincial Quebec and embarking on a criminal career that included bank robbing and jail time. He went straight after he married but remained angry and conflicted, often telling Deni “you’re like me” and seeming to half-want his son to take up his old lawless life. Béchard, who initially hated school but loved to read and yearned to write novels, didn’t know what to make of his father’s mixed signals or his own mixed feelings. His memoir gains power and clarity from the author’s searching, scrupulously honest chronicle of a lengthy process of alternating alienation and reconciliation. Against considerable financial and emotional odds, Béchard entered college in Virginia. This act of defiance won him André’s grudging respect and launched a series of late-night, long-distance conversations in which the elder Béchard mused over his turbulent life while the younger took notes and promised to write his father’s stories. After years of refusing to discuss his origins, in their last phone call André gave his son his birth name and the names of his mother and hometown. Two years after his death, the author went to Quebec and confronted the roots of his father’s malaise, in some ways preordained by family dynamics and yet fundamentally self-chosen.
A poignant but rigorously unsentimental account of hard-won maturity.