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Northwest Passages: Jim Lynch

Pete Springer/OPB

Jim Lynch says he falls in love with places, then studies them until stories rise up.  That led to his first novel, The Highest Tide. Well before he figured out the plot for his new book, Border Songs, he knew the setting: the “thin as a rumor” overgrown drainage ditch that divides nations and neighborhoods between Canada and western Washington.

The first lines grabbed me:

Everyone remembered the night Brandon Vanderkool flew across the Crawfords’ snowfield and tackled the Prince and Princess of Nowhere. The story was so unusual and repeated so vividly so many times that it braided itself into memories along both sides of the border to the  point that you forgot you hadn’t actually witnessed it yourself.

Lynch was a reporter for years, drafting novels in the early morning before heading out to wherever he was going that day. He wrote for The Oregonian and The Seattle Times, among other papers, and covered the northwestern U.S. border after 9/11. In a interview, Lynch says

One thing that’s always interested me about the border is that it’s practically a magnet for temptation. There’s so much illegal commerce going on, and illegal potential around a border, national borders in general. I liked playing with the internal fear of the post-9/11 world — What are we up against here? — while the drug smuggling is getting to the point where you feel left out if you’re not involved.

In Border Songs, everyone in the small British Columbia and Washington communities where the novel is set is involved in something — not the least, each others’ lives. And through the extraordinary awareness of the main protaganist, a six foot eight and a quarter, nearly autistic border guard named Brandon Vanderkool, the leaves, the streams, the birds that make up this place come alive.

Look at the artwork of Andrew Goldsworthy to see some of what helped Lynch shape Vanderkool’s character and communicate the sense of place that drives him. And bring your thoughts and questions to our conversation with Jim Lynch, part of our Northwest Passages series.

Thanks to Jill Poyer, director of the McMinnville Public Library for first suggesting Jim Lynch. Keep the ideas coming!

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