Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book 39: The Buffalo Soldier

The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian

I first discoverd Bohjalian due to his World War II era novel, Skeletons at the Feast, which is still my favorite of his.  He chooses an entirely different topic for each novel he writes, and these have ranged from a ghost story, a literary look into obsession and behavioral health, a murder-suicide in a small town, and foster parents and adoption in this one.  He has a knack for developing sympathetic yet flawed characters.

The majority of the novel takes place two years after a flood that killed Laura and Terry Sheldon's twin daughters.  They have decided to take in a foster child, and I think they are both a bit surprised when Alfred, a ten year old African American boy, comes to their house.  Alfred is hesitant, but begins to form a bond with his elderly neighbor, first bonding over the story of the buffalo soldiers and then over the horse Paul purchases to take care of during his retirement.  Laura and Alfred also start to slowly bond while Alfred's presence causes doubts in Terry, leading to him having an affair.

As the novel progresses, Bohjalian explores the ideas of family and grief.  In the beginning, Terry seems to think that Lauren is more broken by her grief than he is, but as the novel progresses it becomes clear that she has dealt with her loss and is more open to the idea of incorporating Alfred into their family, and moving on.  I quite enjoyed this when I read the novel, and the way Bohjalian juxtaposed Lauren and Terry's reactions to Alfred and some of his habits as a foster child.  It has a been a while since I read this, however, and I'm a bit blurry on some of the specifics.  It is mostly a character driven novel, and like in his other novels, Bohjalian did a very good job of developing their personalities in this quiet story.

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