The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski

You see a title like that and you have to read the book, don’t you think? This is one of the reasons that I love to shop at thrift stores as I love hunting for books that I otherwise may not have come across. You get drawn to a title or a colour or to some vague memory of a recommendation and before you know it, you’re reading something new and remarkable.

Or not, as the case may be, as this way of choosing books is not always foolproof. Like a literary lucky dip.

However, with this book, I was fortunate as I really, really enjoyed it; a little quirky with its magical realism and its hints of black magic as well as Bonaventure’s special gift which I will come onto shortly and the lovely Trinidad Prefontaine with her heart on the opposite side.

Set in the deep South in Louisiana, Bonaventure is born to parents who conceived him while deeply in love. Unfortunately, William, Bonaventure’s father, was shot down by a random vagrant, referred to by Leganski as “The Wanderer”, before Bonaventure was born so the two never meet in the flesh. Leganski shares “The Wanderer”‘s thought processes as part of the narrative although we are unclear why he targets William or who he is and why he would want to inflict such hurt on a young family. This is a thread that permeates the book, the mystery of who this man is, a man who after the deed, comes to languish in an asylum anonymously, befuddled and alone.

It is clear from an early age that Bonaventure is a unique child: even before he is born, he is able to hear above and beyond the normal parameters, Leganski giving us an insight into his development in the womb. When he is birthed with no noise, this is a sign of how life will be – no gurgling, no giggling, no chatter, no laughter, no crying, no tantrums. But Bonaventure, despite his silence, is a joy. He has a strong bond with his mother, Dancy and his grandmother, Letice and everyone around him accepts him for who he is except for Dancy’s mother, Adelaide Roman.

Grandma Roman has very differing ideas about Bonaventure’s silence and is a thoroughly disagreeable person on so many levels. I like the way that Leganski describes how Grandma Roman sounds to Bonaventure – nothing pleasant is associated with her voice or presence. Adelaide is keen to cure Bonaventure of his weakness, believing that it can be healed with faith healing as she believes she has a strong faith and association with the church that she visits. However, her eagerness to attend is not all faith based as she engages in a relationship with the Reverend which is much more than that between parishioner and churchman.

The church and spirituality plays a strong role in the book. Letice is a resolute Catholic, having built a chapel as an extension to her home for her devotions; Adelaide has a powerful faith or believes she has although her ideas of Christian living are warped according to her ideas of them rather than what God may have intended; Bonaventure is the name of a saint as well as the main character and indeed, Bonaventure himself could be seen as deeply spiritual – he has a direct spiritual link with his father as well as, one could say, his immediate environment as he is able to discern colours and experiences and moods merely by listening, like a telepathy between him and the world in its entirety – in this, he is a spiritual being of great understanding far more than his Grandma Roman would ever be.

But you also have the character of Trinidad Prefontaine who is also blessed with a special gift called “The Knowing” which gives her a sort of second sight. Trinidad is also versed in some of the more pagan ways associated with the deep South, like hoodoo and voodoo but she is mystical rather than malevolent. She is introduced early in the book and we are told that she is linked to Bonaventure, that she must go to him although we are not clear until later what form this will take.

Despite her links to what would be seen as dark magic, Trinidad is a good person, a force for healing naturally and using her gift for good. She is also a Christian of sorts and in her, we see the harmony of Christian spirituality with nature’s goodness and magic – a really healthy mix.

There is so much that is good about this book. On a plot level, you have the discovery of who “The Wanderer” is and his motive for killing William which weaves its way through the narrative. You have William developing a relationship with Bonaventure, staying with his family in spirit form and having to complete challenges in the living world in order to transcend and finally get to Heaven rather than Almost Heaven. You have the characters dealing with loss and guilt and despair; at things they could have done differently, if only… You have Trinidad and her moving towards Bonaventure and all that that means for her and Bonaventure.

And finally, you have Bonaventure himself and the way that he sees the world through sounds and I think that it was this that I liked most about the book. He is able to hear everything from the sounds and voices that issue from inanimate objects to the sounds that individual colours make to the whispers of history from important objects and places to the voice of his father from the spirit realm. Leganski draws upon her very vivid imagination to describe them as Bonaventure experiences them and I loved this and, dare I say it, even felt a little bit of envy at not being able to experience the world in this way myself. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t want to not be able to talk as I LOVE to talk but the thought of having an involvement with the world that you inhabit which can create a superlative level of consciousness (Bonaventure can listen to rocks from the beginnings of the world!) sounds pretty cool and exciting to me.

If you like your fiction a little unconventional with a strong storyline and well-drawn characters, then you should give Rita Leganski a try.

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