Title: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow
Author: Rita Leganski
No. of Pages: 400
Bottom Line: Ambitious novel reminiscent of other fantasy-laden Southern novels, it makes for a pleasant read but not particularly ground-breaking.
“Conceived in love and possibility, Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. No one knows that Bonaventure’s silence is filled with resonance — a miraculous gift of rarified hearing that encompasses the Universe of Every Single Sound. Growing up in the big house on Christopher Street in Bayou Cymbaline, Bonaventure can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He can also hear the gentle voice of his father, William Arrow, shot dead before Bonaventure was born by a mysterious stranger known only as the Wanderer.Bonaventure’s remarkable gift of listening promises salvation to the souls who love him: his beautiful young mother, Dancy, haunted by the death of her husband; his Grand-mère Letice, plagued by grief and a long-buried guilt she locks away in a chapel; and his father, William, whose roaming spirit must fix the wreckage of the past. With the help of Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole housekeeper endowed with her own special gifts, Bonaventure will find the key to long-buried mysteries and soothe a chorus of family secrets clamoring to be healed.”
Thoughts: Imagine hearing the flap of a butterfly wing, the descent of a falling tear, the color of orange. Such is the gift born to Bonaventure Arrow. Conceived in love and delivered in tragedy, his ability to hear beyond the realm of possible and inability to speak comes with its own challenges and responsibilities. In true Southern literature fashion, Rita Leganski’s debut novel, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow, uses the magic of possibility and the innocence surrounding one miraculous little boy to uncover and heal his family’s wounds.
While The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is an enjoyable story, it does not stand up well to scrutiny. There is too much overt manipulation by Ms. Leganski that is easy to ignore while in the throes of the novel and too easily seen upon reflection. In addition, the story itself is a tad too predictable, also something easier to forgive while reading. While the characters are enjoyable, there is more than a touch of archetype within them to prevent them from being wholly original. There is nothing earth-shattering or revelatory about the plot, which plods along towards its gratifying and expected ending. The end result is a novel that is simultaneously satisfying and yet mildly upsetting as a reader struggles to remember just what was so special about it upon finishing.
The strength of the novel lies in Ms. Leganski’s luscious imagery. She lists novelists like Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and other Southern authors as her childhood favorites, and one can easily see their influence on her writing style and on her use of the setting as its own character. Set in any other location, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow would just not work. Not only are the influences of hoodoo and root work unique to the South, its well-documented and strongly felt history, as well as the idea of possibility, that still exists create a vibe wherein anything is possible. The rest of the country is too pragmatic, too business-like, and too controlled to fit the potential behind Bonaventure’s gift. Ms. Leganski uses the Louisiana backdrop to full advantage, filling the novel with gorgeous descriptions regarding the countryside, the deep family traditions and long-held beliefs, and something uniquely Southern – that mystical something which continues to draw visitors to the Louisiana bayous by the droves.
It is difficult not to fall a bit in love with Bonaventure, which is entirely the point of the story. He is so amiable and loving, while the fact that he was conceived in such love and born under such tragic circumstances enhance one’s affection for him. The fact that the reader is the only one privy to the extent of Bonaventure’s hearing abilities definitely enhances the bond between reader and character and only mildly manipulative. It is a lot easier to empathize with Bonaventure’s troubles at school and desire to know his father when one knows what he is thinking, feeling, and hearing. He may be an archetype, a la Benjamin Button, but the sense of wonder one feels on his behalf regarding his auditory discoveries offset any negative feelings towards his character.
The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow is a novel best read and not discussed. When reading it, a reader becomes caught up on the vivid descriptions and the constant love between Dancy, William, and Bonaventure and marvel at Bonaventure’s gift. Unfortunately, it is upon discussion where one finally recognizes the story’s myriad flaws and which ultimately does the novel a disservice. The story of the Arrow family is beautiful on its own, regardless of its predictability or heavy-handed use of emotion. Some novels are just not meant for heavy analysis, and The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow clearly falls into that category.