Before writing one of the least wordy and most eloquent first novels ever published, Gerbrand Bakker wrote subtitles for nature films and learned to be a gardener. That unimpressive bit of bio goes a long way to explain his brilliance. What he does in The Twin (Archipelago Books, 2009) is distill huge themes--identity, failure, tragedy, family ties and severings, twinned minds and bodies, unrequited love, youth's confusion, a middle-aged man's unlived life, an old man's death--into spare physical details. A hooded crow outside his dying father's window. An endearing pair of donkeys, the first crack in his grim, dutybound existence. Sheep mired in mud, needing rescue.
You don't have to read his clear short sentences looking for symbolism, though. You just read, moving into his life so steadily you begin to feel its silence surround you. But the seasons and the weather seep into your psyche. This is a book you feel in your bones. It's thoughtful without being ponderous, tightly contained without being contrived or coy. Bakker tends his plot as though it were a garden in cold early spring: yanking out anything extraneous, planting seeds that will sprout later, tilling the soil so the words go deep. In the end, the book blooms where we least expected.
--Jeannette Cooperman, staff writer