Even better than his simultaneously published memoir (Cures for Hunger), Béchard’s haunting first novel follows three generations that can’t find a home in this world.
Native soil for the Hervé family is Gaspésie, Québec, but the lure of les States draws away many despite the contempt of flinty patriarch Hervé Hervé. Life is just too hard in a land where fish stocks are falling and farmland is returning to forest. Besides, it’s difficult to feel secure in a family where “children were born alternately brutes or runts,” and Hervé Hervé makes a habit of giving away the runts to neighbors. Soon only his grandchildren, giant Jude and tiny Isa-Marie, remain, and after she dies in 1961, Jude takes to the road and winds up boxing in Georgia. This launches an odyssey that spans 45 years and ranges across the North American continent, as Hervé Hervé’s descendants struggle to maintain connections with the people they love but generally end up taking to the road again. Their connection with the natural world is more sustained and sparks Béchard’s most beautiful prose, whether he’s describing a stream in a Virginia wood, a desert landscape in New Mexico or the windswept riverside communities of Québec. Magical realism is the facile way to describe a narrative style that abruptly drops its characters into professions and relationships. Yet the meticulous details and painfully recognizable feelings forestall the fey quality that often mars novels by gringo admirers of Latin American fiction. Béchard has a voice and a vision all his own, both tough-minded and passionately emotional: It feels just as right when a father goads his son to become a fugitive from the law as it does when another father begs his wander-minded daughter, “Wait…Just a little longer. Wait.”
Reportedly at work on a book about conservation in the Congolese rainforest, the author clearly has ambitions as big as his talent, but readers of this lyrical novel will hope he gets back to fiction soon.