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In Hovering Flight by Joyce Hinnefeld
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Jan 10, 2009

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Read in January, 2009

“According to John James Audubon, there was once a species of bird in southeastern Pennsylvania, the Cuveir’s kinglet, Regulus cuvieri or, as Audubon liked to call it, Cuvier’s wren.” So starts Joyce Hinnefeld’s novel In Hovering Flight. The bird itself, a drawing of which is featured on the book’s cover, may have been a joke, an invention by Audubon for unknown reasons. The sighting of the same bird by protagonist Addie Kavanagh, may have also been made up for similarly unknown reasons. We never get to find out.

Addie and her daughter are the focus of this elegant and entrancing work. Addie Kavanagh was Addie Sturmer before she fell in love with birds, as well as her Biology of Birds professor. But before the reader learns this, they learn that Addie is dead, and the foreshadowing of what they will do with her body comes in the first two pages. We meet the major players of the book as they gather on the porch of a seaside home in New Jersey; there are Addie’s friends, Cora and Lou, and Addie’s husband, Tom. We also meet Scarlet, Addie’s daughter, named for the Scarlet Tanager. All of the characters have secrets and shared moments, the blending of lives influenced by Addie, a passionate artist and environmental activist.

Scarlet could not always understand her mother. Addie was such an enigmatic and powerful woman with unflinching beliefs that she seemed to push some people away, even while drawing them towards her. Influenced by her mother and father’s work with birds, Scarlet herself is a poet. There are mentions in the text of Scarlet’s poetry, and I wish there would have been an appendix or reference section at the end that contained the poems in their full text, but that was not to be. The language creates images that are at times beautiful and at others, disturbing. Haunting in its simplicity is the connection between images of the bodies that fell from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and the flight and glide of birds.

In Hovering Flight ranges from before Scarlet was born up to 2002 when Addie passes away from breast cancer. A number of powerful environmental issues are discussed—particularly the danger of the pesticides and chemicals that are found in the ground, water, and air. Addie also stands out as a strong woman, never backing down and always insistent that the world needed saving and that she could save it.

Review by Kristin Conard
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