The Bird Skinner; Alice Greenway
Atlantic Monthly Press - 2014
In The Bird Skinner, the protagonist, Jim Carroway has experienced it all -- war, love, loss of love, and most recently, even loss of limb. He's spent his later years drinking too much, smoking too much and all of the excess has cost him the loss of a leg. Unable to navigate life in NYC after his amputation, Jim leaves the city, the job he once held with the Museum of Natural History as a respected ornithologist, retreating to a small island in Maine where he spent his summers as a young boy.
His self imposed isolation and what seemed like a death wish to drink and smoke himself into the grave doesn't quite pan out when a spirited young daughter of Jim's former WWII buddy arrives for the summer before she heads off to classes at Yale. It's the girl's visit that triggers flashbacks to Jim's past -- his WWII days, his marriage to his beautiful wife Helen who he lost way too soon. Each new revelation provides a piece of the puzzle to the despondent man Jim became.
The story begins in 1973 and travels fairly smoothly back and forth in time. I thought the writing was very good, but slow paced at times, and too depressing for me (especially in January). Jim is certainly a complex character which the author did a terrific job fleshing out. I enjoyed the descriptiveness of places traveled both near and far, and the thought provoking passages peppered here and there. I also found it interesting to learn a bit about ornithology in the process. Despite the good points, I do have to admit that it took me a while to get through this book, not because it's lengthy, but because it was just too much of a downer at times. Not a book to dive into if you are feeling a little blue.
(review copy and eGalley)