The recipe is simple, but tragic. Mix in a young couple living in Vermont who loses their twin daughters to a terrible flood. Season with a ten-year old African-American foster child that they take in two years later. Understand the couple grieves differently and the husband has a one night affair that produces a pregnancy. Finally, layer in a kind, retired couple across the street, one of whom is a retired history professor who introduces the boy to a book on an African-American regiment called the Buffalo Soldiers. What results is an excellent book by Chris Bohjalian called “The Buffalo Soldier.”
The book is told in first person, through the eyes of five sets of characters. Laura, the young wife, works at a pet shelter. Terry, the husband, is a Vermont state trooper. Alfred is the young boy who has moved from foster home to foster home. Phoebe is the woman who Terry becomes infatuated with and is the expectant mother of his child. And, the Heberts, Paul and Emily, are the retired couple whose view is told together. Bohjalian alternates the first person narrative by chapter which provides perspective.
Alfred becomes fascinated with the Buffalo Soldiers, especially after Paul tells him the Native Americans gave them that name as an honor. To them, the buffalo gave life – food, clothing, shelter – so they revered the animal. This becomes important when Paul and Emily get a horse and ask Alfred to help. Alfred is treated differently by others because there are not many African-Americans in this small town or his school, so the Buffalo Soldiers intrigue him and give him a connection.
The story has many relationships, but the foster family is at the heart of it. As noted therein, losing one child is trying to a family, but losing both of your only children can cause relationships to end. As noted above, people grieve differently and for long periods of time. So, while Alfred helps bring Laura out of her grief, Terry has still not stopped being mad at the world and misses how his relationship with his wife was before the death of the twins.
Each chapter begins with a little paragraph on the Buffalo Soldiers, so we see what Paul and Alfred find so compelling about them. I will stop there so as not to reveal any more of the plot. Give it a read and let me know what you think. Please avoid the comments in case others have already read it.