And the Birds Rained Down, Jocelyne Saucier (translated by: Rhonda Mullins), 160 pgs, Coach House Books, chbooks.com, $18.95
Tom and Charlie are two elderly friends living out the last few years of their lives in a northern Ontario forest community filled with pot farmers and other individuals looking to escape society’s shackles. Having had their fill of life, both men have chosen to embrace the calm and quiet of solitude. When two women arrive in the community — the first a photographer seeking information about survivors of a series of fires that took place in the early 1900s, the second a woman who spent 66 years in a Toronto asylum — the status quo of their tiny isolated community is quickly turned on its head.
Saucier’s narrative in As the Birds Rained Down weaves an alternating first-person/third-person narrative around the memory — indeed the legend — of a dead man. Ted (or Ed, or Edward) Boychuck was a survivor of the great fires, an artist, and a man whose life weaved in and out of several others, though no one could quite agree on his first name. Boychuck is the absentee protagonist of the novella — the fulcrum around which the greater themes revolve.
The book also serves as an atypical love story between Charlie and Marie- Desneige, the woman from the asylum, and Tom, who until the arrival of the women shared a platonic love with Charlie. Before the arrival of the two women, Tom and Charlie had both thrown in life’s towel, resigned to their fates. Through his unexpected connection, however, Charlie is given a new lease on life, and Marie-Desneige is given her first taste of true freedom. Tom, meanwhile, is left behind as the remainder to an equation he didn’t know existed, and the photographer behind the lens through which we view their friendship’s divide.
A meditation on legacies, love and expectations, Saucier’s novella is a small yet emotionally gratifying window into a seldom seen community with a life and history all its own. (Andrew Wilmot)