Monday, May 19, 2014

THE BUFFALO SOLDIER by Chris Bohjalian

Sandwiched between a flood at the beginning of the novel and another at the end are three main characters:  Laura, her policeman husband Terry, and Alfred, their black foster child.  In the first flood Laura and Terry lost their young twin daughters; hence Alfred is in the unenviable position of taking their place.   His relationship with Terry is one of wariness on both sides, while Laura has embraced him, seeing him as a tortured soul, not unlike the abandoned pets at the shelter where she works.  Grief, and to a degree Alfred's presence, have driven a stake into the heart of Laura and Terry's marriage.  As the chasm between them widens, Terry finds himself attracted to Phoebe, who becomes another player in this tale of woe.  On the bright side, elderly neighbors Paul and Emily give Alfred something to live for by introducing him to horseback riding and to the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, a regiment of black cavalry during the late 1800s.  Except for Terry's lapse of fidelity, everyone is basically trying to do the right thing, except for Terry's hard-drinking brother Russell, who will surely come around eventually.  Finding the best solution for all parties is tricky, and I looked forward to seeing how the author would tie things up.  He did a good job with that, but not before subjecting us to that second flood, which I feared would supply more grief than I could handle.  Sometimes one tragedy requires another to right the ship.  Thank heavens for Paul and Emily, the eternally good, and Russell, the bad boy, for giving us a respite from this storm of anguish.

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