Rita Leganski, and I probably never will again. It is very, very, very unique. It's set in Louisiana in the 1950s. In 2013, it's jarring to read about the traditions and social mores that existed back then. It's a little hard to put into words what the overall book is about. Is religious faith powerful enough to help a family heal? Is voodoo powerful enough to help a family heal? Or, does a mute little boy have the power and the strength to help his family heal? This is the type of book that you have to read in order to truly understand it.
The first two sentences are the precursor to the overall theme of the book.
"Bonaventure Arrow didn't make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. But the child was only listening, placing sound inside quiet and gaining his bearings because everything had suddenly changed."
Bonaventure Arrow was the product of his loving parents Dancy and William. But Bonaventure's birth was shrouded in heartache and sorrow. William was shot to death by a disfigured and mysterious man named the Wanderer. Dancy was never the same. Her unborn child could not only feel her sorrow, he could hear it. As he grows up, Bonaventure doesn't speak. But he speaks without speaking. He knows how to communicate with hand-written notes, gestures, and emotions. This level of communication is what makes him special. He can hear sounds nearby and afar. Even his mother's overwhelming grief has a sound. Bonaventure doesn't know what he can do to make her heartache go away. Would things have been different if his father were alive? If William were alive perhaps Bonaventure would know the sound of his own voice.
Bonaventure's unique gift, isn't so unique to everyone. His grandmother Adelaide is so obsessed with her Bible and the local church. She doesn't take the time to get to know or understand her grandson. She's convinced the devil has control of his tongue. She's determined to get the devil out of him. Anything that's different is wrong in Adelaide's mind. It's her mission to "fix" everything that is wrong, no matter who it hurts.
Despite his death, Bonaventure does get to know his father. William doesn't want to go to heaven, he wants to be his son's guardian angel. People might think he's strange or crazy, but Bonaventure gets to communicate with his father. No one but William and Bonaventure can hear these talks. It sounds sweet and innocent, but is William really helping by staying behind? William's spirit casts a shadow over everyone in the house. Sometimes Bonaventure wishes he was like other children. He wishes his dad were still alive, just like other kids his age. William's mother Letice is also consumed by guilt. She believes sins from her past caused William's death. If Letice could just find a way to forgive herself, maybe she could move on. Dancy blames herself for his death, too. She often drowns herself in alcohol. No one can move on, not even William.
It takes a perfect stranger to help the family heal. Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole woman, is also blessed with unique gifts. She has an instant connection with the entire family. She can see and understand what's below the surface. The average person wouldn't know that something is wrong with Letice and Dancy. She gets them to tap into their feelings. All three women have led different paths, but they're able to see how similar they really are.
Leganski's writing style takes some getting used to. The writing is almost lyrical, and I think it works here. But I feel like I missed something. There is a lot of mysticism and magic in this book, and sometimes I didn't understand it all. Overall, I think this is a very unique and inventive book.
Rating: Give it a try
Note: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is the March book club selection for She Reads.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins)