A family curse - a genetic trick resulting from centuries of hardship - causes the Hervé children to be born either giants or runts. Book One follows the giants' line, exploring Jude Hervé's career as a boxer in Georgia and Louisiana in the 1960s, his escape from that brutal life alone with his baby daughter Isa, and her eventual decision to enter into a strange, chaste marriage with a much older man. Book Two traces a different kind of life entirely, as the runts of the family discover that their power lies in a kind of unifying love. François seeks the identity of his missing father for years, while his own son, Harvey, flees from modern society into spiritual quests. But none of the Hervés can abandon their longing for a place where they might find others like themselves.
In assured and mystically powerful prose, Deni Y. Béchard tells a wide-ranging, spellbinding story of a family trying to create an identity in an unwelcoming landscape. Imbued throughout with a deep sensitivity to the physical world, Vandal Love is a breathtaking literary debut about the power of love to create and destroy - in our lives, and in our history.
1946 - 1961
Even when Jude was a boy, his arms and legs bulged, his neck corded, his muscled gut humped beneath his chest. On the steep fields above the road, above the river so wide they called it la mer, he worked in clothes the color of dirt, harder and fasterthan his uncles, though when he paused from digging, he stood awkwardly, uneasy with inaction. By the age of fifteen, he rarely stopped. He sat and ate in the same motion. He undressed and stretched on his bed and slept. Hardship had given his face the uneven angles of an old apple pressed in among others in a cellar crate. He'd never closed his eyes to wonder at what couldn't be seen.
That autumn ended a dry summer. Foliage was dull, like rusted machinery on the hills. Potato harvest had him carving furrows in chill earth. He could never have imagined that a decade later villagers would still discuss the days that led to his disappearance. Or that some nights, watching TV, they would dream his ...
Elements of Béchard's novel have a magical realist quality - the extremes of the characters' sizes, their prodigious appetites, the coincidences that bring them together. Its idiosyncratic characters and darkly strange worldview, however, will remind many readers of the gothic atmosphere of Joyce Carol Oates's novels. It's hard to believe that this skilled, often deeply moving novel is Béchard's first - readers will certainly be hoping for great things from this imaginative, original, elegantly lyrical but muscular new voice.
(Reviewed by Norah Piehl).
Full Review (838 words).
Although some elements of Vandal Love seem mystical or even supernatural in their origins, one significant theme of the novel is very much rooted in history. Early in the story, Hervé - Jude and François's father - expresses disgust with the mass migration of Québécois away from the country of their birth, a journey of which his own children will soon take part.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (and in particular between 1840 and the Great Depression in the 1930s), there was a major migration of French Canadians to the United States and Ontario known as "Le Grand Hémorragie" during which time approximately 900,000 residents of Québec emigrated in search of work and prosperity. This ...
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