Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: An Ornithologist's Guide to Life

An Ornithologist's Guide to Life: Stories
Ann Hood
W.W. Norton
published in hardcover 2004
paperback published 2005
237 pages

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.


Kerry said...

This title sounds vaguely familiar, but I'd never focused on what it actually was. Sounds interesting. I'm trying to find short story collections (it's a too-little explored genre for me), and this could fit the bill perfectly.

Priya Parmar said...

i have not read this. i always forget how much i like short stories!

ImageNations said...

When well crafted and the voice is right stories told by or from the pov of children are interesting. They make you think twice before you act and they make nonsense with the term 'adult' which is often equated with 'maturity'. We often see adults, expected to know better, behaving like the kids they are bringing forth. I love your take on the stories presented here.

Robyn Ryle said...

See, it was actually a good idea to buy this book at Barnes and Noble, even if it meant you had to haul it with you on another move.

bibliophiliac said...

@Kerry-I'm going to try to post more reviews of short story collections...
@Priya-How are you? Hope everything is well with you.
@Nana-I agree-the child's pov is interesting-thanks for stopping by.

bibliophiliac said...

@Robyn-I can always rationalize my book buying in the end!