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A Catalog of Birds

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  599 ratings  ·  130 reviews
Laura Harrington's new novel is a portrait of a family in the midst of recovery, the mysterious disappearance of a young woman, and of a brother and sister whose love of the natural world just might save their lives.

Set in 1970, a watershed moment in American History, A Catalog of Birds tells the story of the Flynn family and the devastating impact of the Vietnam War. At
Paperback, 259 pages
Published July 11th 2017 by Europa Editions (first published July 10th 2017)
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Laura Harrington Probably not. She is part of one of the most fundamental threads or themes in the book: disappearance. So many things disappeared during that era - fr…moreProbably not. She is part of one of the most fundamental threads or themes in the book: disappearance. So many things disappeared during that era - from the largest issues - belief and trust in our own government, wildlife succumbing to chemical use, a sense of innocence, and yes, girls disappearing.

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Average rating 4.19  · 
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Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I came of age in the shadow of the Vietnam War. It has taken years — decades — for this country to come to terms with how this unauthorized war destroyed the promising lives of young men who fought in it. And still, we persist in the folly of sacrificing our youth.

Laura Harrington, in poetic and lyrical prose, strives to bridge that understanding. Billy Flynn/and his younger sister Nell have a deep bond and a passion for the natural world. His artistic rendering of birds is executed with precisi
Liza Wiemer
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you've missed adding this to your TBR list, please check out this novel. It's on my top reads list for 2017!

Second read:

Wow. This novel!!! I fell in love with the characters and, oh my goodness, I'm warning you now they're unforgettable. Billy Flynn and his sister Nell, their parents, siblings, and Harlow—swoon over Harlow! Then there's Megan, Nell's best friend and Billy's love. No words to describe the mystery of Megan. Just read it! Every one of these characters will get into your heart an
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
A Catalog of Birds centres around a small 1970’s community in the Finger Lakes region of New York state, an area known for its series of long, thin, deep glacial lakes, it’s high gorges and dramatic waterfalls (and today its wineries).

Despite its natural beauty, this community is affected, as every other is and has been, by the shadow of war, of young men returning from Vietnam, lost dreams, a lost innocence.

The Flynn family’s son Billy has just returned, his body covered in burns, his right arm
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a magnificent second novel to follow and expand the themes first explored in Laura Harrington's brilliant debut, ALICE BLISS. Read A CATALOG OF BIRDS to become a member of the big Irish-Catholic family struggling with the overwhelming impact of the war in Vietnam on their badly-injured returning soldier--and on them all. Billy had been a gifted artist; his wounds have cost him the use of a hand, and he cannot recover the ability to draw his beloved birds. He learns that first love, Megan ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In prose as riveting as it is sensitive, Harrington brings the natural world and the human one into focus. This story is unforgettable. Highly, highly recommend!
Christian Westermann
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Set in upstate NY during the early 1970s with the Vietnam War as a backdrop and the anti-war protests that happened here, I felt a connection to this book as a New Yorker. More so, the novel resonated with me as an American.

Billy Flynn, the only son of the Flynn family, returns home from Vietnam worse than dead. He comes back severely burned, effectively ruining his love for sketching birds and Ornithology. Billy undergoes extensive rehab to try and gain his strength again, but even then he has
Dec 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: library
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Siobhan Fallon
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Laura Harrington’s lyrical and unforgettable Catalog of Birds examines the hard questions of what makes a life worth living. A talented artist returns from Vietnam so badly wounded that, after countless surgeries and months of physical training, he can hardly hold a pencil. Meanwhile, the troubled girl he loves mysteriously vanishes. Harrington paints both human frailties and the larger Vietnam conflict with the empathetic clarity she does best, and the parallels between our recent wars in the M ...more
Bonnie Brody
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I grew into adulthood at the height of the Vietnam war. This novel took me back to that time and the issues faced by soldiers returning from the war only to be met with anti-war protestors and a government that still didn't understand Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. As veterans tried to deal with their psychic and physical injuries, there was little support from the population as a whole, most of whom just wanted to see the war end.

Billy Flynn has always wanted to fly, like a bird or as a pilot.
Stephen Kiernan
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The most lyrical and lovely war story I've read, this novel concerns a young man's return from Vietnam, largely told from the perspective of his younger sister. The plot is linear and it's not a happy tale, but the landscape is glorious and the description of small town life is evocative. Also, every so often the characters go silent, to listen for the sounds of birds in the woods, and it is like a refreshing pause in the story, a chance for characters and the reader to calm themselves.
Highly r
Sandy Thor
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It seems like I’ve been reading so many books about WWII. Those were mostly set during the war - people were in it for the long haul until the end of the war.

With the Vietnam War - people were in it for their tour of duty - often 2 years for those drafted. Then they returned to ‘normal’ society but nothing was ever normal again. How sad it is that Vietnam vets received such ill treatment after coming home - both from society and from the government.

It makes me wonder how many homeless men of o
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Laura Harrington manages to write down to the very bone in A Catalog of Birds. Weaving the familial with the political with expertise and heart, Harrington shines a light on the ways that battles of war scar everyone connected to our soldiers, cutting back the dreams of those who serve and those who love them. Separating the soldiers of the Vietnam war from the loved ones left behind is impossible. Harrington, with intensity, sympathy and truth-telling provides a journey into the heart of Americ ...more
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Catalog" is a meditation on loss, written for people just my age. It brings me back to the betrayals of the Vietnam era by following siblings Nell and Billy Flynn as the depth of Billy's wounding in Vietnam is explored along with the impacts on those who love him- but most especially Nell. Book Group really liked Harrington's tale and felt that the lack of resolution was an authentic outcome. Every member of the group had become invested in the characters and the story and discussion occurred o ...more
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Laura Harrington’s “A Catalog of Birds” turned out to be an unexpected pleasure.

Based on reviews, I would not have been surprised, going in, to find good things here. But a few dozen pages in, I had my doubts — you know, the good writer, poor execution thing. This novel is like stepping into and out of stripey sunshine: beauty, then disorienting lack of clarity. Fortunately, this is one of those novels that gets better all the way through, and while much of what happens is dark, I felt I was wal
Kasa Cotugno
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Laura Harrington has set this beautiful novel in upper state New York in 1970 for a distinct purpose -- that "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." The hopelessness experienced by those who lived through the seemingly endless Vietnam era which scarred this country beyond redemption, is being repeated by currently witnessing even longer conflicts that show no signs of slowing down or resolution. The large Irish/Catholic Flynn family of Geneva is a warm, close knit clan, d ...more
Lynn Barclay
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend this book! So many important issues — war, nature, loss — addressed in such beautiful prose. Harrington's characters come to life; I didn't want the novel to end. It’s poignant and sad, but also full of love and beauty. ...more
Ann Reinking
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a heart-wrenchingly sad and beautifully written book about an injured Vietnam vet and his attempts to recover from his injuries and the horrors of war. I read it in one day and sobbed at the end......
Kirstin McEachern
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful follow-up (prequel, actually) to Harrington's "Alice Bliss." She writes nuanced male characters and depicts complicated, loving relationships so perfectly, not to mention her messages about the ravages of war are poignant and, sadly, timely. ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A Catalog of Birds is a quiet exploration of the emotional aftermath of a soldier's re-entry after serving in Vietnam. The war intruded into all of our lives, but for some, it tore them apart. Some were sons of WWII vets where the trauma will carry through yet another generation.

The birds are a backdrop for the story. Billy spent many hours in the woods observing and listening to birdsong. He is a gifted listener and shares his time and experiences with his younger sister, Nell. But after the wa
Randy nixon

Ms Harrington has crafted an amazing work full of loss, pain, longing, and love. When you finish the book you don't know if you should be sad or hopeful.
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really, really strong book. Sucked me right in. I wanted to drive to Geneva and see/hear all that these characters were living through.
From a technical point of view, this author does an amazing job of presenting a variety of points of view by being an omniscient narrator. Rather than have chapters devoted to one character's POV and then switching, this narrator just knows what everyone is thinking, feeling, meaning. It really works.
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Inspiring, heart-wrenching, thought provoking, deeply moving, beautifully written, one of my favorite books of the year. Buy one for a friend because you're going to want someone to talk to about it! ...more
Thomas Andrikus
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
A wistful novel set in upstate New York nearing the end of Vietnam War, “A Catalog of Birds” focuses on a recently-returned soldier Billy Flynn who was injured —both physically and mentally— from his last battle in Vietnam. He was injured on the right-hand side of his body, in addition to the emotional yet less-visible scar he carries for feeling guilty of having survived the war while his close buddies perished.
We will never be entirely sure if the story is meant to be a veiled criticism of the
Doug Green
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Laura Harrington’s stunning new novel, A Catalog Of Birds, is a beautifully rendered portrait of a family’s struggle to navigate through the litany of unexpected loss that to this day, continues to haunt the American soul.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Harrington’s next work after her brilliant debut novel, Alice Bliss, and am delighted to let you know it was well worth the wait.

A Catalog of Birds is set in 1970, a time when the loss of American innocence has been experienced in full living color.
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss, a Waring All-School read, has offered us a powerful story of the impact of the Vietnam War on one helicopter pilot and his family and community. Harrington brings us into their lives, shows us their dreams (and nightmares), their challenges, their aspirations, and their turmoil. Her characters are nuanced and complex, and they frequently surprise the reader. Harrington's description of the upstate New York (Finger Lakes) region is beautiful, in stark cont ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This beautifully written book will definitely be in my list of top 10 books of 2017. I absolutely loved it - the characters, the plot and most of all the beautiful writing. I feel like I know these people and miss them now that the novel is done.

The novel is set in 1970 and is about the Flynn family - mom, dad, 2 boys and 3 girls. When they were growing up Billy and his sister Nell were always close and spent a lot of time together. Now Billy is coming home wounded in a helicopter crash in Vietn
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If this book hadn't had me at the setting--1970 at the height of Vietnam war and protests--it would have (and did) capture me with the characters and story line. Nell's brother Billy returns from Vietnam damaged physically and emotionally. The brother and sister who bonded over hours of bird watching in their Finger Lakes, NY surroundings now struggle to reconnect as Billy tries to recover. His wounds go much deeper than the burns and unresponsive arm and hand that had made hundreds of intricate ...more
Mar 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a troubling novel about the effects on an individual (Billy) and his family when he returns from the Vietnam War badly wounded in body and mind. As a young man Billy was a birdwatcher and an artist, making meticulous drawings of the birds he saw. He also wanted nothing more than to fly - and flew he did until his helicopter crashed and burned. This book reminded me in its poignancy of that exquisite short novel by David Malouf - Fly Away Peter.

Harrington parallels Billy's story with the
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
I mostly skimmed this book, since I found it so difficult to stomach. Generally, I like war stories but this was not one of the ones I preferred. Ironically, I finished this book on Veteran's Day.

I got it out from the library on an ornithology quest, for I am one of those mythological birders, but alas, that was not what Harrington had in mind. (Whenever I can afford it, and my health permits, I show up to my local Bird Club!)

This is not really about birds, but about people. There IS the whole
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Billy Flynn goes to Vietnam in the 1970s and returns home an injured, changed man. Billy's girlfriend Megan mysteriously disappears under suspicious circumstances once he returns home, which is disturbing and unsettling to many members of the community as well as to Billy and Nell. His devoted younger sister Nell feels great concern for him during his time of healing and does her best to help him recover. They both have a great love of birds and nature, which also plays in important part in this ...more
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52 weeks, 52 books: Week 2017.44: A Catalog of Birds 1 20 Nov 03, 2017 07:50AM  

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Laura Harrington's award-winning plays, musicals, and operas have been widely produced across America, in Canada, and Europe in venues ranging from off-off-Broadway to Houston Grand Opera. She is the 2008 Kleban Award Winner for most promising librettist in American Musical Theatre. Harrington has twice won both the Massachusetts Cultural Council Award and the Clauder Competition for best new play ...more

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