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The time is 1967, the year of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and A Whiter Shade of Pale. The place is a summer settlement on the Québec/Maine border, Boundary Lake, where the residents do not necessarily speak each other's language but get along pleasantly. Two of them, girls from Maine families, Sissy Morgan and Elizabeth (Zaza) Mulligan, are in the first rush of pubescence and inseparable. They are driving the adults around them crazy, with their exuberance, their self-absorption, and their passion for British rock and one another. But very shortly, both will be dead, one after another, murdered and mutilated.
There is another young girl, Andrée, who narrates parts of the story and who is at once enthralled and repulsed by the teenagers' energy and unabashed femaleness. The girls appear to Andrée to be citizens of another world, not so much American as adult - a world to which she knows she is ultimately destined but is for now reluctant to embrace.
Zaza is the first to go missing and when her lifeless body is found, her leg severed by a rusty trap, it is initially unclear whether she has died in a horrible accident or if something or someone unknown is responsible. There is talk of an archetypal mad trapper, Pierre Landry, who had hanged himself years ago in his cabin but who perhaps had not really died. It was he, after all, who had tagged the place Bondrée and in naming it perhaps established a kind of ownership.
Nevertheless, the police, in this case, the Maine police, are brought in to investigate the death. Stan Michaud is leading the group and he is haunted by memories of a young girl's death years earlier that had in the end remained unsolved. Despite his last name, Stan's French is minimal and he needs translation to conduct his investigations. Nevertheless, he is unable to conclude with any certainty that Zaza did not die in any way other than accidental and he winds things up in Bondrée immediately after Zaza's funeral.
But then Sissy disappears, only to be found, similarly in the jaws of a trap that should not have been where it was, and fear and confusion descends over Bondrée with neighbours eyeing one another suspiciously, children who had roamed the woods unsupervised now confined to home, and what had been a carefree summer holiday transformed by fear.
In a way, it is somewhat unfortunate that BOUNDARY has been published in early summer rather than at some other season. Yes, it deals with events in cottage country in the summer of 1967, the Summer of Love, which might make a casual reader conclude that it would make a good choice for a vacation read somewhere on a beach. Though listed as "suspense/thriller," it really isn't either. The detection that takes place is perfunctory at best and the solution is almost accidental. The style is dense, lyrical, sometimes hallucinatory, often beautiful. But the concentration on the interior life of the characters, the musicality of the long, fluid sentences tend to dissolve the kind of tension necessary to maintain suspense. It is a difficult book to put down, but less because we are anxious for a plot resolution than because we are held in a sort of spell woven out of a particular historical moment and a timeless tension between a state of innocence and its inevitable loss.
The sub-title is "The Last Summer." In the end, the little settlement dissolves, its inhabitants disperse to their winter homes, never to return. The porous boundaries between the two countries, the two languages, the two cultures that existed then will harden over time. Michaud gives her young narrator her own first name and tells us that she spent three childhood years in Bondrée, a period that informs her fiction. It is a fact that accounts in some measure for the aching sense of loss experienced by everyone whose life is disrupted and whose confidence destroyed by the terrible, if fictional, events of this last summer.
Donald Winkler's translation is superb. He manages the difficult task of conveying the rhythm and flavour of the original text while avoiding any awkwardness or strain. If there is one regret, it is that the publishers chose the title BOUNDARY over the original, BONDRÉE, a word neither French nor English, but perfectly expressive of the shifting boundaries in this novel.
§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.
Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2017
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