Vandal Love by D. Y. BechardVandal Love by D. Y. Bechard

Vandal Love

byD. Y. Bechard

Paperback | January 16, 2007

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An astonishing novel, Vandal Love follows generations of a unique French-Canadian family across North America, and through the twentieth century, as they struggle to find their place in the world.

A family curse – a genetic trick resulting from centuries of hardship – causes the Hervé children to be born either giants or runts. Book I of Vandal Love 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 II 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 searches for years for his missing father; 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 almost mystically powerful prose, D.Y. Béchard tells a wide-ranging, spellbinding story of a family trying to create an identity in an unwelcoming North America. Political, poetic, and philosophically searching, and 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 destroy – in our lives, and in our history.


From the Hardcover edition.
D.Y. Béchard was born in the mountains of British Columbia to French-Canadian and American parents, and has since lived throughout Canada and the United States. Vandal Love is his first novel. He currently resides in Montréal.From the Hardcover edition.
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Title:Vandal LoveFormat:PaperbackDimensions:352 pages, 7.99 × 5.04 × 0.97 inPublished:January 16, 2007Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385660529

ISBN - 13:9780385660525

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Read from the Book

part oneQuébec1946—1961Even when Jude was a boy, his arms and legs bulged, his neck corded, his muscled gut humped beneath his chest. On the steep fields above the road, above the river so wide they called it la mer, he worked in clothes the colour of dirt, harder and faster than his uncles, though when he paused from digging, he stood awkwardly, uneasy with inaction. By the age of fifteen, he rarely stopped. He sat and ate in the same motion. He undressed and stretched on his bed and slept. Hardship had given his face the uneven angles of an old apple pressed in among others in a cellar crate. He’d never closed his eyes to wonder at what couldn’t be seen.That autumn ended a dry summer. Foliage was dull, like rusted machinery on the hills. Potato harvest had him carving furrows in chill earth. He could never have imagined that a decade later villagers would still discuss the days that led to his disappearance. Or that some nights, watching TV, they would dream his fierce height and red hair, as if they might see him on a Hollywood street.Of the nineteen Hervé children, he should have been the most content to stay. His grandfather, Hervé Hervé, had raised him, and together they’d fished paternal waters with the regularity of Mass. The Hervés had owned those first rough mountain farms since before the Seven Years War, and when Capt. George Scott burned the French homes, they didn’t flee to France. Nor did they relocate for the convenience of a telegraph line and a doctor when Jersey merchants built company villages. But for all their strength the family had developed an unusual trait. Children were born alternately brutes or runts, as if the womb had been exhausted. It was clockwork, enormous child then changeling. Villagers saw and feared this as if through some faint ancient recollection of stories that predated Christianity. They feared even the little ones, frail, scurrying beneath those hulking siblings.Though half his children were runts as if by biblical curse, Hervé Hervé remained proud. Strong beyond his years, he brought up even the last of his sons to fish and work the fields at a time when cod stocks were failing and farmland returning to forest. He’d grown up during the worst years of the emigration south and had seen too much change to trust it, the poverty, the wealth of war and again the poverty until he’d become as hard as the country that had been fled by hundreds of thousands so that it was him his children now fled. In fights, men broke knuckles on his face, his wide, almost Indian features expressionless, his weather-browned skin ignoring whatever bruise. He took his sons hunting hours through the drifts. He never used a compass, and once, when geologists and surveyors sent inland by the province disappeared, he retrieved them. In 1904, walking a dark road, he heard a shot from the woods and a bullet grazed his eye. No one believed it was an accident. If anything, his remaining eye became more intent, imprinted in memories and imaginations. Some claimed he measured the distance to the sea by tasting snow.In his first marriage he fathered three boys and three girls. Of those sons, two were keepers–he spoke of his children, if at all, in the language of a fisherman. He bred his wife hard, and when she foundered in childbed, he replaced her with Georgianne, a sturdier woman of no small religious bent who gave him eleven more. Jude was the illegitimate son of a brutish Scots-American tourist and Agnès, Georgianne’s fourteen-year-old daughter, who, intent on not giving birth, pummelled her belly, threw herself down hills and stairs, plunged into icy water and hurtled against low branches so that to the villagers she looked like a sideshow tough training for a bareknuckle fight. The pregnancy held and Jude was born with a flat nose and the glassy gaze of a punch-drunk fighter. But he wasn’t born alone. He came into the world with a tiny twin sister, in his arms, it was told, as though he expected further violence.All were surprised to see a keeper and a runt together, as if he should have emerged with a bag of gnawed bones. Villagers who knew the family accounts believed the Hervé curse was the result of some past perversion or sin. When winter or sickness came, the runts were the first to go, abused or disregarded by the giants. Oddly, though, with the years, it became apparent that Jude adored his quivering sister. He grew fast and started walking so young the villagers doubted his age, and whenever Isa-Marie, still in diapers, began to cry, he leaned against her cradle like a greaser on his Chevy. No two children could grow to be more different, Isa-Marie often at church, the pages of her school books crammed with magazine clippings of popes or saints, Jude eager for work, slogging up to the fields each spring just to see the sodden furrows set against the sky, the huge vents of mud.Of Agnès no memory would remain, only a photo, a handsome girl, eyelashes dark and long, lips pushed out to greet the world’s pleasures. She’d fed them bitter milk for three months as outside spring lit winter’s crevices, the sky bright as a movie screen, the first tourist cars hanging streamers of dust. That July she disappeared, only the orphaned twins and Jude’s name to remember her by. The tourist father had been called Jude, she’d told them. As for Isa-Marie, the grandmother had named her for a long-dead sister, some Isabelle from another life.Hervé Hervé was sixty-six that year, late to be a father again. On the day of Jude’s birth he’d recognized the child as one of his own. He’d taken the silent newborn wrapped in a sheet to the salt-pitted scales, in the full April winds off the St. Lawrence, and reckoned his weight to a penny. By the time Jude was seven, Hervé Hervé was casting bets as to what he could pick up: crates of cod, a rusted foremast in the rocks. At his grandfather’s command, Jude stripped to chickenflesh and yellowed briefs. The crates went up, the mast wobbled and rose. Hervé Hervé gathered change, fragrant cigarettes brought by a sailor, a dollar pinned beneath a rock against the wind. Off a ways Moise Maheur watched with his own son, an angular boy with a protruding chin and squinty eyes, five years Jude’s elder, about the same height. Hervé Hervé put his pipe in a pocket, lit a cigarette, froze each man with his one eye and proposed a second bet. It was a June day, wind lifting spray off shallow breakers as the crowd stood in the cool light and watched. The Maheur boy threw punches as if they were stones. Jude’s came straight from the chin. The men shook their heads and looked away. Hervé Hervé counted up, gave Jude a penny for good measure.Jude grew within the time capsule of this affection, an odd tableau for the fifties: the swarthy grandfather with his pagan eye, and his atavistic protégé, fighting, stripped to the waist, coarse reddened skin like a wet shirt against muscle. Hervé Hervé decided to train him, told him to split wood, more than they could need or sell. Run, he shouted, pointing to the mountain. Each morning he gave him a jar of raw, fresh milk despite the disapproval of his wife, and Jude, stomach burbling, followed along to be weighed in.For the people of the village, the fights were less amusing each year as small, plum-coloured bruises became missing teeth, black eyes, great cancerous swellings on the faces of their sons. Soon people were saying, Doesn’t he know those times are over? Does he think this can go on forever? Jude’s birth had coincided with the end of the war, and only a few years afterwards, electricity had reached the village. Power lines stretched over the mountains and above the potato fields so that, hoeing, they could feel the thrum in their bones. Salesmen soon arrived with new contraptions, and children crowded to inspect the fluffy contents of a vacuum bag or to let the metal wand make hickeys on their arms. There was something innocent, light about the age, the future destined to be better.When Jude and Isa-Marie were ten, their grandmother, shocking village and curé alike, claimed that the ghost of her son had visited, some long-lost favourite of hers who’d fled west and never returned. In her stolid way she’d said that out there in the vast, English-speaking world she had other grandchildren that needed saving. Though Hervé Hervé tried to curb this madness, she left in the night with only her knitting and egg money, as well as some baby clothes and hand-me-downs, and was never seen again. The betrayal enraged Hervé Hervé, his bouts of drinking more violent, his sons and daughters less inhibited. Jude’s grandmother, medieval in her devotion, had run the house firmly, and without her there was no one to save them from their appetites.Soon even the youngest of Jude’s aunts and uncles were gone, fled or married. The house became dirty. Clothes went unmended. While Jude and Hervé Hervé worked, Isa-Marie studied or read or clipped up discarded church magazines and taped the holy images to her wall: missionary priests, saintly house pets, jungle savages who’d joined the clergy, the scars of piercings still visible on their round, beatific faces. From time to time two married aunts came by, gossiped in the kitchen, cleaned and left bowls of fried eggs, bacon and potato that Jude and Hervé Hervé ate cold for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That spring another aunt moved in with her four children after her husband wrecked his rig on the north coast and was crushed by logs. The house became almost normal, hot meals, scents of baking, diversity of tastes. Even Isa-Marie ventured from her room to help, Jude hulking along at her side, learning to pin diapers and powder bottoms. In those years he became kinder, made an effort to piece letters together at school, eyes bobbing in his head as he tried to figure out where to put his hands on the book. He learned to write his name, and under Isa-Marie’s supervision, wrote it often. In summer there were flowers on the table, berries picked and made into pies. During a February blizzard Isa-Marie gave out Valentines, each a paper heart glued with clippings of bleeding Jesuses, praying Virgins and women’s pumps from the Eaton’s catalogue. But Hervé Hervé’s drinking increased. By autumn the aunt had moved out with her children. The other two resumed their visits: fried papery eggs, carbonized bacon. They smoked in the kitchen and told stories: fathers in drunken threesomes with teenaged daughters, a pregnant woman who accidentally swallowed bleach and gave birth to an albino.Isa-Marie returned to the silence of her room. Flowers dried on the table, stems rotting in brackish water. Jude watched his aunts from the doorway. He recalled the wild, innocent laughter of children. Before that, what? An old woman with a jaw like a log splitter, the way she’d held his collar as she scrubbed at his face. His only memory of maternal love.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“Over a vast yet beautifully coherent canvas, Vandal Love follows the panic and privilege of human longing through an amazing coalition of loneliness and adaptation. These characters — injured but unbowed, broken but enduring — introduce a gifted new writer. Béchard’s surety of voice and confident narrative span declare a first rate novel and an eloquent debut.” — Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book, jury comments“Vandal Love is a generational novel with a difference. It has a magical touch. . . . Complex, perplexing, but lyrical, this is a novel that will sweep you away with its scope, energy and ambition. Only time will tell if Vandal Love is remembered in a decade. My guess is yes.” —The Sun Times (Owen Sound)“Béchard is an ambitious and skillful storyteller. His specialty is finding words to describe longing. . . . The cover blurb for Vandal Love says it is about the power of love, but I thought is was more about blood: what our veins inherit, and how it both holds and haunts us.” —Georgia Straight “Masterful storytelling and heartbreakingly beautiful writing--Vandal 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."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“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.” – Calgary Herald (Interview, 28 Jan 2006)"D.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."—Michel Basilieres, The Globe and Mail"Lyrical, compelling, moving (both figuratively and literally) the characters in Vandal Love drift and converge and procreate and take flight like birds on the wing."—Margaret MacPherson, Edmonton Journal"The novel beautifully evokes that eternal theme of the outsider, the outcast, the freak, in the search to find a place, albeit more of the soul than of the corporeal, that can be called home."—Laurel Smith, Quill and Quire"One part Jack Kerouac, one part William Faulkner, D.Y. Béchard has shaped Vandal Love into a heartfelt and sweeping narrative that follows the quest of damaged personalities who seek to become whole again. A searching and mystical novel imbued with sensitivity and grace, it has thrust Béchard centre stage as an up-and-coming literary contender and a new voice to be reckoned with."—M.J. Stone, The Hour"Vandal Love is a point of reference for authors who set out to tackle the challenges of writing a multigenerational story. . . He shines in his ability not only to bridge the generation gap but to connect the two "books" . . . The effect is near seamless, the unfolding of events written with surgical precision. It would be a shame if Béchard is not recognized for the new voice and talent that he is."—Tyler Bradley, Vancouver Sun"The author weaves his lyrical and image-rich prose through the pages of Vandal Love with the audacity of a virtuoso. Béchard seems poised to walk among the giants of the Canadian literary scene."—Dan Naccarato, Now"D.Y. Béchard tells a grand, sprawling story that spans five generations in the life of a Quebec family. Béchard's writing at its strongest flows in sonorous passages, it evokes memorable landscapes, natural and urban, and examines the enduring qualities of a family separated by both time and distance... Béchard's manic imagination contains echoes of the magic realism of the South American master Gabriel Garcia Marquez or, closer to home, the tall tales of western Canadian literary heavyweight Robert Kroetsch Writing in English "–Glenn Bergen, Winnipeg Free Press"Readers who find this sort of thing poetically true no doubt also love the more fanciful narratives of Michael Ondaatje and Jane Urquhart ."–Philip Marchand, Toronto Star "Its themes are loss and displacement, its style lyrical and ambition considerable. It makes, in other words, quite a first impression. A young writer needs luck to have this kind of material at hand and guts to pursue it...it has the feel of a novel that's been a lifetime in the making...There's a tinge of Faulkner's defeated South in Vandal Love, too."–Joel Yanofsky, Montreal Gazette "Béchard's improvised, riff-heavy narrative resembles Salman Rushdie more than Gabria Garcia Marquez, as it plays with the idea of exile as both a genetic inheritance and a spiritual purgatory. Disconnected from their heritage and scattered across the continent, the Herv és are nevertheless haunted by the same spritual vacuum." –Kevin Wong, National Post"Vandal Love is a spectacular beginning to D.Y. Béchard's writing career...There's something of the storytelling of E. Annie Proulx here; brutal yet tender, simple yet incredibly moving."–Claire Stirling, Calgary Herald “In Vandal Love D.Y. Béchard has re-invented the generational novel with innovative brilliance. The book has all the quirky depth of a great HBO series and a line-to-line literary energy that is very rare.  This is 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 Love is a lyrical, generational story of a family haunted by God who is not above, but is nature — who is in the chromosomes that make for big and small, strong and weak, who is inside exquisitely cruel and hard journeys, who is the squeak of snow under boots in Quebec, or a mosquitoed sweat on a bare, muscled boxer in Louisiana. 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 Bechard's first novel.” —Dagoberto Gilb, Author of The Magic of Blood and Woodcuts of WomenFrom the Hardcover edition.