Monday, April 25, 2011
Review: An Ornithologist's Guide to Life
published in hardcover 2004
paperback published 2005
This is the kind of thing I do (or used to--maybe I'm reformed now): I go to Barnes and Noble, spend a couple of hours browsing, and in a fit of optimism, I spring for a hardcover book. Oh, I tell myself, I'm going to read this right now. And I can afford it, if I have soup for dinner for the next two weeks....
Then I move. And have to pack up all the unread hardcover books, some of them with the little 20% off stickers still on them. This, I tell myself, is why I am not a millionaire.
So we moved this month. And I unearthed a few embarrassingly old hardcover books, some of which I had not so much as cracked the spine.
The good news is, I finally read Ann Hood's wonderful collection of short stories (first published in 2004) An Ornithologist's Guide to Life. The stories show people acting like people: you know the kind of thing--running away with a minister and trying not to drink, bringing your mother across the country for a visit and still not being able to tell her you're gay, neglecting your children to sleep with the neighbor--that kind of stuff.
Hood's characters are sometimes in extremity, and sometimes at their worst, but they never seem like anything other than real people stumbling through life as best they can. In "Total Cave Darkness," a woman who seems to be running recklessly toward destruction may be headed straight for redemption. I kind of loved this woman, even as she was trying to hide the six-pack of beer she finally bought. I'm still rooting for her redemption.
Many of the stories in this collection are told from the point-of-view of children or teenagers who are watching as their parents behave badly. Very badly. Sometimes the adults are not the adults--just like in real life. I kind of favored the stories that were told from a kid p.o.v. I loved "Joelle's Mother," a story in which sisters are fascinated by their father's daughter from his first marriage. "Inside Gorbachev's Head" is another story that manages to bypass the predictable, as a college-age boy finally understands his parents' divorce in a new and disturbing light. And in the title story, a young girl observes the birds of Brooklyn and her mother's dalliance with a neighbor. But in "New People," it is a suburban wife who loses her innocence in a very disturbing story.
An Ornithologist's Guide to Life is a fine collection of stories, highly recommended for those who enjoy literary fiction.