By Deni Y. Bechard
(Milkweed Editions, Paperback, 9781571310910, 352pp.)
Publication Date: May 2012
An astonishing novel of epic ambition, Vandal Lovewinner of the prestigious Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book in 2007follows generations of a unique French-Canadian family across North America and through the twentieth century.
A family cursea genetic trick resulting from centuries of hardshipcauses the Hervé children to be born either giants or runts. Book One follows the giants’ line, exploring Jude Hervé’s career as a boxer in Georgia and Louisiana in the 1960s, his escape from that brutal life alone with his baby daughter Isa, and her eventual decision to enter into a strange, chaste marriage with a much older man. Book Two traces a different kind of life entirely, as the runts of the family discover that their power lies in a kind of unifying love. François seeks the identity of his missing father for years, while his own son, Harvey, flees from modern society into spiritual quests. But none of the Hervés can abandon their longing for a place where they might find others like themselves.
In assured and mystically powerful prose, Deni Y. Béchard tells a wide-ranging, spellbinding story of a family trying to create an identity in an unwelcoming landscape. Imbued throughout with a deep sensitivity to the physical world, Vandal Love is a breathtaking literary debut about the power of love to create and destroyin our lives, and in our history.
Deni Y. Béchard's first novel, Vandal Love, (Doubleday Canada, 2006) won the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the best first book in the entire British Commonwealth. He has been a fellow at MacDowell, Jentel, the Edward Albee Foundation, Ledig House, the Anderson Center, and the Vermont Studio Center, among others. His articles, stories and translations have appeared in a number of magazines and newspapers, among them the National Post, the Harvard Review and the Harvard Divinity Bulletin. He has done freelance reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, and has lived in and traveled through over thirty countries. When not traveling, he divides his time between Japan, Cambridge, and Montréal. Cures for Hunger and Vandal Love are his firstand simultaneousbook-length publications in the United States.
Praise for Vandal Love:
"Don't think of Vandal Love as a page-turner. It's a novel you'll want to read slowly, savoring prose that's both lyrical and gritty, able to evoke big emotions with exquisite intimacy. Deni Y. Béchard's masterful debut sweeps through North America from rural early-20th-century Quebec to an ashram in 21st-century-New Mexico, following several generations of a French-Canadian family in which 'children were born alternately brutes or runts.' Family patriarch Hervé Hervé, a farmer and fisherman who speaks of his larger children as 'keepers' (some of the small ones he actually gives away), 'had become as hard as the country...so that it was he his children now fled.' As Herve's progeny scatter south and west from Quebec, each is driven by a visceral longing to connect, whether to God or mere humans. But whatever happiness they manage to find never lasts long. Inevitably Hervé's descendants leave, or are left by, anyone who could soothe their loneliness. And the path to God is, as one character comes to realize, 'the least sure of all roads.' If this unusual story--like its characters--occasionally seems to wander without a clear destination, the final stunningly poignant pages prove that Béchard knew exactly where he was taking us all along."
O, The Oprah Magazine
"This dreamlike novel spans five generations in the lives of a French-Canadian family of misfits....a strange and beautiful first novel...built sentence by luminous, surprising sentence."
Brigitte Frase, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"In this moving and entertaining debut, the Hervé family suffers from a genetic quirkor divine maladythat results in their children growing into towering brutes or sickly runts. In mid-20thcentury Quebec, the hard drinking patriarch Hervé Hervé reduces his family by lendingor simply giving awaythe runts, while keeping the giants for labor. Set both in Canada and several American states, from Maine to New Mexico, and spanning more than half a century, the novel divides itself between the isolated introspective pugilist giant Jude, and François, a sociable, religious runt. Though the two Hervé brothers are very different in appearance, they both feel the need to strike out alone, creating their own families and identities in transcontinental voyages. This is both a road novel and a voyage through time, with each of the book’s two parts covering the lifetimes of several family members in an examination of the Hervé lineage. Ruminations abound on sex, violence, and the bonds between people. Though Béchard (Cures for Hunger, a memoir) has a journalism background, this fiction debut, unfolding in punchy prose, recalls Márquez with a French-Canadian twist. "
Publishers Weekly (starred)
"Teens will relate to the resultant quest for identity experienced by the youth of each generation. Béchard’s expressive prose easily lures readers into the successive stories. There is a sense of mystical destiny that evokes the novels of Alice Hoffman or Isabelle Allende. Characters find redemption with unlikely people in unusual settings, but never quite ease their loneliness until family bonds are reconnected. This is a good recommendation for readers who enjoy complex stories with dark undertones, such as Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River."
Diane Colson (Palm Harbor Library, FL), School Library Journal blog
"Béchard has a voice and a vision all his own, both tough-minded and passionately emotional."
"A family mythos reminiscent of Faulkner."
Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist
An enormously impressive debut by a clearly gifted writer.”
Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain
Vandal Loveintroduces a gifted new writer. Béchard’s surety of voice and confident narrative span declare a first rate novel and an eloquent debut.”
Commonwealth Judging Panel
Reminiscent of Proulx and Doctorow in both sweep and grace of prose, it is hard to believe that Vandal Love, so elegant and accomplished, is only Béchard's first novel.”
Dagoberto Gilb, Author of The Magic of Blood and Woodcuts of Women
The word 'masterpiece' is not to be used lightly, but one is tempted in the case of Vandal Love, for the scope of its ambition, its originality, and its muscular use of language conjure a young Faulkner, Garcia Marquez, or Steinbeck.”
Katherine Min, author of Secondhand World
Masterful storytelling and heartbreakingly beautiful writingVandal Love delivers this and more in an epic tale of love, family, and country. I could not put it down, and when the journey finally ended, I refused to lend my copy and instead bought extras to spread the joy.”
Loung Ung, author of Lucky Child and First They Killed My Father
"A mystically powerful novel about the Quebec diaspora and creating identity in an unwelcoming
landscape...It's hard to believe that this skilled, often deeply moving novel is Béchard's first - readers will certainly be hoping for great things from this imaginative, original, elegantly lyrical but muscular new voice."
Norah Piehl, BookBrowse
Béchard's writing, at its strongest, flows in sonorous passages, evokes memorable landscapes, natural and urban, examines the enduring qualities of a family separated by both time and distance, and contains echoes of the magic realism of the South American master Gabriel García Márquez.”
Winnipeg Free Press
Deni Y. Béchard surpasses Kerouac in his consciousness of the French as part of a larger people, how their struggle is socially and politically situated rather than strictly personal . . . Vandal Love seems like a trans-generational On the Road, which, also infused with a kind of inherited defeatism, was the perfect Americanized expression of an unexamined Existentialism, the ultimate Beat utterance.”
The Globe and Mail
Although Vandal Love is a first novel, it reads as smoothly as if Béchard had a library to his name--mature, lyrical, tactile and at times simple, cruel and sweet. No doubt, the giant steps this young writer has taken will set him far ahead on his literary path.”
Highly original, poetically charged, compelling, beautifully crafted, visceral, sonorous, visionary. . . . Béchard's prose, at once lyrical and tight, is mesmerizing, with resonances of Marquez, Faulkner, and Ondaatjeyet it is very much Béchard's own. Vandal Love is a saga of family and history, love and isolation, strength and vulnerability, suffering and redemption.”
Off The Shelf, Boston Globe book blog
Praise for Cures for Hunger
"Béchard's sad and moving memoir is all about secrets and regret and, ultimately, finding peace."
Jim Carmin, Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A poignant but rigorously unsentimental account of hard-won maturity."
"A coming-of-age story of lost innocence, violence, and tenderness by a writer obsessed with the man who influenced him the most but was there the least."
Jonathan Fullmer, Booklist
"In Cures For Hunger, Deni Y. Bechard has created a moving story of rootlessness, rebellion, lost love, criminal daring, regret, and restless searching. Driven above all by the need to grasp his father's secrets, he has written his narrative in skillful, resonant prose graced with a subtle tone of obsession and longing."
Leonard Gardner, author of Fat City
"This powerful and haunting memoir is a must-read for anyone who has ever struggled to uncover their identity within the shadow of a parent. Written in exquisitely sharp prose, Béchard combs through his attempt to understand his father's mysterious existence with inspiring precision. This book is huge and achingly true."
Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance
"You haven't read a story like this one, even if your father was the kind of magnificent scoundrel you only find in Russian novels. Béchard is the rare writer who knows the secret to telling the true story. Just because the end is clear doesn't mean the bets are off."
Marlon James, author of The Book of Night Women
Béchard writes that prison taught his father the nature of the self, the way it can be shaped and hardened.’ As in a great novel, this darkly comic and lyrical memoir demonstrates the shaping of its author, who suffers the wreckage of his father's life, yet manages to salvage all the beauty of its desperate freedoms. Béchard's poetic gifts give voice to the outsiders of society, and make them glow with humanity and love.”
Elizabeth McKenzie, author of Stop That Girl
Cures for Hunger is the best book I picked up at Winter Institute 7, and that alone would have made the trip worth it. The author tells the story of his extraordinary upbringing in British Columbia mostly influenced by a father who enjoyed cheating death by doing everything from racing trains at railroad crossings to fighting anyone who crossed him. The even wilder deeds of his father’s past couldn’t be kept secret, and as they were slowly revealed, this loving and bizarre Dad shaped the life of his son. Deni Bechard has done a masterful job of taking all that life has dealt him, accepting it and analyzing it in a fascinating piece of literature. I found myself alternating between cringing and laughing with each page.
Peter Schertz, Maria’s Bookshop, Durango, CO
"Deni Y. Bachard's early childhood in British Columbia was filled with a Tom Sawyerish adventure filled lifestyle that most boys could only dream of. His idol during this time was his father Andre, a no nonsense, rough around the edges French Canadian whose shady past was always only a step behind him. After a shocking split between his parents, Deni's new life with his mother in America leaves much to be desired. His inner battle between the two worlds he cherishes has him constantly guessing which path to take. Only through choosing his own way does he discover that the life he always wanted is far from the life he truly needs."
Matt Falvey, Next Chapter Bookshop, Mequon, WI