How to describe Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher! Tall Tale? Coming of Age? Historical Fiction? Magical Realism? Or just a young man’s fantastical reminisces of participating in an historic event with his father and uncle one fateful weekend in the promised spring with one last snow fall – “the snow that brings the snow”.
No one dies in the Bon Homme (Goodman) family, they simply disappear. William, also known as Quebec Bill, leaves his family and travels the country and when he returns they are just gone. He searches for years to no avail until he finds himself a wife and starts his own family not far from where his nomadic family once lived, next door to his Aunt Cordelia, the only blood relative left in sight.
Despite being desperately poor, William, an optimist, sees the good in everything, giving everybody the benefit of the doubt with a rollicking sense of humor and a search for fun. Armed with his fiddle, he mesmerizes everyone in the Vermont town, enjoying their company. William collects misfits, both animals and people, generously inviting them into his home. He truly loves his wife, rescuing her from a Montreal Convent where she eventually returns.
Circumstances during the depression have left him penniless, necessitating a whisky run to earn enough cash in Prohibition America to feed his wife’s prized cows. Bringing along his son – Wild Bill, his brother in law – Uncle Henry, and Rat – one of the misfits with a talent for farming, their hijinks up along the coast between Vermont and Canada are the stuff of legends including the antagonist, Carcajou (Indian for wolverine), who keeps showing up at inopportune times, despite their concerted attempts to kill him dead.
Each new escapade beats out the last, as they wreck havoc along the way from the destruction of Uncle Henry’s cherished car to the sinking of a railroad locomotive to the crashing of a small plane, with numerous exploits in between. The wild behaviors continue throughout the novel leaving the reader confused and unable to predict what could possibly happen next.
Don’t look for sanity, just hang on to your hat and enjoy the ride. Perhaps this tale is simply an exaggeration found in the mind of a young boy who idolized his dad or maybe it’s a matter of symbolism where the evil Carcajou is the conscience which William seems to lack. There’s even a rumbling that the plot reflects the trauma which comes at the end of childhood.
Bits and pieces of various shenanigans are exposed consisting of past and future events including some marked similarities between Great Grandfather Rene and Henry, Wild Bill’s son. Henry has the touch of absurd, talking to the “shadow” of Aunt Cordelia, trying to raise a Saber Tooth Tiger, and eventually defecting to Canada when his number gets called for the draft to Viet Nam. In this way he, too, disappears from Wild Bill’s life, just as the rest of the family moves on, both literally and figuratively. Remember, don’t think too deeply, just enjoy.
A beautifully written regional novel which helps the reader visualize the New England countryside, this is just one of many books by this author about the residents of Kingdom County, a place of wonders or, as Aunt Cordelia might say, where one discovers the extraordinary from the ordinary. Four stars.
This review also appears on Goodreads.