The Boulevard by Jerrod Edson

Back in 2018, I wrote this of Jerrod Edson’s fifth novel, The Moon is Real: “It has been eight years since Mr. Edson’s last book, and almost five years since the manuscript for The Moon is Real won the David Adams Richards Prize. It would appear that he has spent many an hour honing the story down to the bare bones, adding a little flesh, sinew and muscle in all the right places to make this a very poignant story of love and loss in the unforgiving Port City.”

Now, in 2023, we have The Boulevard, Mr. Edson’s sixth novel, and once again, another long wait for his next book awaited this patient reader. I happen to know the story has gone through a few iterations (and a publisher) before being the inaugural release of Lee Thompson’s Galleon Books. Several times, Mr. Edson contacted me about the progress of this novel, so when it finally arrived in my mailbox, I was quite eager to read it.

“The storyline that Mr. Edson has created is imaginative, well-paced and engaging.”

Unlike the previous novel, which was set in Saint John, The Boulevard is set in Hell of all places (some may argue that they are the same) making this a work of speculative fiction.

***Spoilers ahead!

Here’s the synopsis: Satan and his fellow heavenly outcasts have created a capital city of which “the Boulevard” or the main street and its buildings, have been painted by none other than Vincent Van Gogh, one of many famous (and infamous) denizens of the underworld Satan rules over. As such, it brings a fantastic type of light to an otherwise dark and dreary place. Of course, such beautifying is against the rules (God’s that is) and when Satan learns that God himself is coming to do an inspection (after 6,000 years), he knows that he has to remove all the beautifying of Hell that has been done, including his crowning achievement, the Boulevard. Knowing what he must do, Satan boards a train for “the Foothills”.

"The next train to the Foothills departs in twenty minutes, sir."
Graves looked up.
"The Foothills? You're going to see him? What for?"
"To tell him," Satan said. "I owe him that much."
"And you think this will absolve you?" Graves said. "Going there and telling him?"
"I don't know."
"You remember how it was in the beginning," Graves said. "Surely you haven't forgotten."
"I have not forgotten," Satan said.
"That's how it will be."
"It will not be like that."
"Oh yes it will," Graves said. He was angry now, a grunt in his voice. "And I shouldn't need to tell you this, but be careful what you're doing, because it's not just you- it's all of us."

So begins the long train ride and Satan, upon learning that Ernest Hemingway is aboard, invites him to his private car. Over a never-ending supply of wine and Scotch, Satan relates the story of the founding of Hell and the downcasting of Satan and his associates.

"It is a long train ride, Ernest. Let me tell you about Vincent, and how the Boulevard came to be."

Also, Mr. Hemingway encourages Satan to relate the story of how he got Van Gogh to commit suicide so that he could use his services in Hell. In so doing, Hemingway and the reader are treated to a recounting of the life of Van Gogh and how Satan watched and manoeuvred events toward the artist’s ultimate end (like Hemingway’s, at the end of a gun) and to his painting of the Boulevard.

Hemingway looked out the window. "There is no lonelier man than the suicide."

When I first read of what the story was about, I was sceptical. As a Christian, I wasn’t keen on reading anything that might glorify the original rebel. However, the storyline that Mr. Edson has created is imaginative, well-paced and engaging. And while it doesn’t necessarily make Satan out to be the evil person he is, he is no angel either, especially as he works out Van Gogh’s suicide for his own selfish ends. Too, Satan gets sicker and sicker as the story unravels and the closer the train gets to its final destination, the Foothills. Being far removed from the Boulevard and its light and energy takes its toll on Satan. We feel no pity for him.

***End of spoiler alert.

In conclusion, The Boulevard is yet another well-crafted novel by Jerrod Edson. Art lovers will appreciate all the details of Van Gogh’s life as well as those of his contemporaries. His characters, whether actual or fictional, have a life of their own, and it is obvious that the script has been closely edited as well, either by the author and/or the publisher. As the author’s father is quoted as saying after reading an early version of this book, “It’s different”. And, I might add, a great train ride.

Read an excerpt from The Boulevard here.

Jerrod Edson was born in Saint John, NB, in 1974. He lives in Mississauga, ON, with his wife Leigh and daughters Hadley and Harper. The Boulevard is his sixth novel.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Galleon Publishing (May 15 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 270 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 177807815X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1778078156