Kathleen's Reviews > Birds in Fall

Birds in Fall by Brad Kessler
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's review
May 23, 2012

really liked it
Read in May, 2012

First of all, this is not a book to read on an airplane. The first chapter sets the plot in motion--passengers on a plane about to crash. The rest of the novel is about the aftermath of the disaster and why we react and grieve so differently from others.

There are two main characters, Kevin Gearns and Ana Gathreaux. Kevin owns and runs the Trachis Inn, on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, with his partner Doug. Ana is an ornithologist in New York City. Her husband was on his way to deliver a lecture in Amsterdam, but of course never makes it. Kevin begins immediately to prepare for the grieving family members who arrive to be close as the search for the plane takes place. It is a multinational group that assembles and then disperses. His central question is "Why all thus fuss for people who'd died so publicly--so spectacularly--in a flash, when there was nothing for the thousands who died agonizingly slow, alone, shunned inside their rooms?...All the friends in New York City he'd watched die and no one cared?" (179) He had been his friends' caregiver during the AIDs epidemic--exhausted from that life, he had become in innkeeper on Trachis Island. He becomes a huge part of the healing process for many of his guests.

Ana comes to the inn and almost nothing of her husband is found until much later. Her grief is profound; her father died suddenly, too, when Ana was only 19. Her area of expertise is bird migration, "To remove, to leave, to abandon one region for another." (119) It takes her years to absorb her abandonment, to begin to heal. Some characters leave the inn immediately, caught in their private grief. One character responds through music: his wife had been headed to Amsterdam to play in a concert of Richard Strauss's Metamorphoses.

And speaking of meamorphoses, Brad Kessler, the author, incorporates, many classical allusions in the novel, none more important that the story of Alcyone and Ceyx, who for boasting of their perfect love, were changed into kingfishers (Ana's favorite birds from childhood). And the story of Icarus figures, as does the Bruegel painting and Auden's poem about the painting.

The final chapter also takes plane in the air, like the first, but with a much happier resolution.

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