In this deeply affecting short novel, a nursing home’s paperboy becomes intertwined with a dying old man and his memories of a lost love.
As narrator John Fulton explains to the reader, he was 17 when he delivered newspapers and magazines to residents of the Spring Lake Home and discovered that an old man there, Bob Brown, left him an album and journal filled with unmailed letters. John presents these to the reader interspersed with his own comments, memories, and investigations. Bob’s letters are addressed to someone named Margo (whom John later cannot track down), admitting to her, “It’s hard for me to concentrate on one thing at a time….I’m every age I’ve ever been.” The sentences often seesaw between past and present, between memory and dream or nightmare, but always come back to rest on a set of images and phrases: a dark-eyed girl, her white blouse, the mint tea her mother made, a high meadow in spring with a trail to snowfields. John becomes Bob’s helper and, in more ways than one, his heir. Blanchard (The High Traverse, 2000) works alchemy in these pages, achieving an almost unbearable tenderness. Bob’s memories of the girl—so few!—are infinitely dear. His dreams are full of sorrow and anxiety. But much more is going on here than grappling with loss. The paperboy (at first so straightforward) seems spiritually linked to Bob, almost his living reincarnation, adopting the old man’s dreams. We are, it seems, in the realm of the numinous; the paperboy can be seen as a divine messenger, Bob’s psychopomp, as well as his heir. Yet Blanchard provides “evidence” that the account is real, with photos and news clippings. Paradoxically, the more Blanchard insists on authenticating his story, the more he underlines its fictiveness, but why? Maybe because Hermes is also a trickster. Blanchard’s work is the kind of literary fiction that rewards rereading and will keep readers thinking and feeling long after closing its covers.
Beautiful, heartbreaking, and deceptive; this fine novel taps into real mystery.