The Buffalo Soldier
Trade Paperback/416 pages
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". . . revisiting an old friend . . ."
". . . ending comes across as a little too succinct and neat. . . but satisfying . . ."
". . . a poignant and tender story . . ."
In his eighth book, Chris Bohjalian brings us back to Vermont, to peer for a short time into the lives of a wounded family, the Sheldons. The Buffalo Soldier has familiar traces of his previous novels, but rather than being stale or trite, it’s like revisiting an old friend, one you don’t keep in touch with as often as you’d like. Once again, Bohjalian’s characters are an assortment of complex and multifaceted individuals. The prevailing theme is one of loss—the loss of a child, the loss of youth, the loss of innocence.
The novel focuses on Terry and Laura Sheldon, who have tried to rebuild their lives after the drowning deaths of their twin girls. Alfred, a young foster child, enters their lives and forces them to face the ghosts of the past and to deal with the emotions too long suppressed. Alfred is detached, having put up enough emotional barriers to shield himself from the mistreatment and neglect he has suffered through in his young life. Paul Hebert, an elderly neighbor, befriends the young boy. Their relationship is arguably the heart of the novel, and without question the most endearing aspect. Slowly the bond between Laura and Alfred grows stronger while at the same time her marriage disintegrates as Terry finds himself attracted to another woman. The ending comes across as a little too succinct and neat, without any of the loose ends that typically form a life, but it is satisfying nonetheless.
Chris Bohjalian has presented his readers with another tale of damaged people struggling amid personal turmoil. Perhaps the enduring appeal lies in their weaknesses and foibles—we may not always like the characters, but they are authentically human, with all the flaws inherent in being one. The Buffalo Soldier is a poignant and tender story of the heartbreak of being human.
Hardcover: Shaye Areheart Books 0-609-60833-9
Reviewer: Lesley Williams