Boundaries and borders, between countries and between stages of life: Andrée A. Michaud’s Boundary darts across the dotted lines, back and forth, sedately in one moment and chillingly the next.
Because the story revolves around the murders of two young women in the small community of Bondrée, questions of femininity and vulnerability arise early in the novel.
“But I revered those two girls with silky hair who smelled of peach and lily of the valley, who read photo novels and danced rock ‘n’ roll like the groupies who waggled their hips on TV to songs translated by the Excentriques or César et les Romains. To me they represented a quintessence of femininity to which I hardly dared aspire, a magazine femininity reserved for girls who had long legs and lacquered nails.”
That’s one way of looking at Sissy and Zaza.
But here’s another.
“That kind of girl, her mother repeated, knowing perfectly well that Sissy and Zaza were the same, that they took themselves for twins, blood sisters, babies found in the same damn basket. That kind of girl, you know?”
Regardless of which kind of girl Sissy and Zaza actually are, they are no longer.
In one moment, Bondrée is a place of beauty and stillness.
“Every tree became an entire forest, every stone a monolith as big as the Rock of Gibraltar, which my father had shown me in one of those magazines that makes you realize you don’t know anything and every stretch of beach was a desert full of rattlesnakes, sand hoppers, poisonous lizards, and other creatures right out of the scary stories in our after-supper books. Bondrée was a world unto itself, the mirror of all possible universes.”
In another it is fraught and tentative.
“After nightfall, however, the ambience changed. There was no more applause, just gusts of wind at the very heart of the falls. In the black coulee opened up by the river there drifted eddies of foam, the only bright zones on moonless nights, looking like drool from the maw of a prehistoric animal. Among the trees lining the shore, you no longer wanted to run. You held your breath to pick out the forest’s tangle of sounds, lost to the wind, captive to clamour.”
The threat is real and the community is fractured.
“Michaud saw this dark energy as an electric current connecting the men, fathers, brothers, fearful in the knowledge that there was a monster on the loose who could act again.”
The sense of menace is cool and calculating; there is an air of tension strung throughout, but this is not a pageturner. Nor, however, is it a quiet psychological exploration, for this is a bloody story.
“Along with the trap, the knife pointed to Boundary’s murderer being a hunter, someone whose power resided in capture, and then in the spoils he stripped from his prey…”
And its resolution rests in the idea of weighing and measuring, examining a situation from multiple perspectives, of recognizing that the concerns of a small community touched by violence are not far removed from the threat of domination and destruction in the wider world.
“With Cusack, he was locked into a cop’s way of seeing things, whereas Larue came from another world, that of books, which reflect reality with a different sort of acuity, taking a small sample of the real and weighing it against a whole that existed only in the sum of its parts. That was what he ought to be doing too, looking on Boundary as the microcosm of a humanity that never changed.”
Translated by Donald Winkler, Andrée A. Michaud’s Boundary is dark and disturbing, the sort of story that satisfies on a frosty winter afternoon and a simmery summer evening. That makes you shiver and sweat, relishing in the pursuit of something-that-can-never-be-resolved.
Boundary‘s superpower is its precision.
Past Giller juries have recognized atmospheric and dark stories (like Alix Ohlin’s Inside and Alexi Zentner’s Touch in 2012 and 2011 respectively) in the past. This year’s jury appreciates haunting and evocative narratives, and they have chosen to advance other novels with elements of darkness to this year’s shortlist (mmmm, actually all of the books on the shortlist have at least a hint of darkness), but Boundary didn’t cross the longlist line.