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Fall of the Birds

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Posted January 23, 2012

    A powerful novella with a significance far outweighing its size

    This is a powerful novella-- memories of the past, revelations about the present, and a determined resolve concerning the future all woven into thirty-five pages. Instead of detracting from the work's meaningfulness, its compact size makes Fall of the Birds even more poignant, driving home its message concerning the fleeting nature of companionship and life itself. The diction is beautiful, drawing the reader into the lives of the characters so subtly that their pain and sorrow become the reader’s burden. Only on the last page is it remembered that the characters one has come to care so much about are, in fact, fictional, leaving the reader with a sense of catharsis. From the very beginning I strongly empathized with the narrator and main protagonist, a middle-aged man struggling with his many roles: insurance claims adjuster, birding enthusiast, grieving widower, and struggling step-father. His first-person musings are thoughtful and honest, exposing his extreme vulnerability to the reader as he shares his deepest fears and greatest joys. Throughout the novella he mourns the loss of his wife Laurel to cancer, narrating not only his struggles and loneliness but those of his teenaged step-daughter Caitlin as well. While privately grieving he attempts to maintain as normal a home-life for her as possible, understanding fully that through their mutual loss their single channel of communication has disappeared as well. Communication becomes increasingly vital, however, when Caitlin notices that, though spring has come, the usual birds have not returned to nest in her and her step-father's back yard or even to eat seed from their overflowing feeders. Then the narrator is called to survey the destruction wreaked on a client's greenhouse when hundreds of birds simply fall from the sky to their deaths. These eerie mass bird deaths become regular occurrences throughout the narrator's region and beyond, though not only are the birds perishing, they are also behaving erratically with many far outside of their typical zones and flight paths. No one, from civilian witnesses to ornithologists, are able to provide any explanation as to why this is happening, and as time goes on the narrator is called to more and more such sites to record the resulting damage. These violent and disturbing scenes combined with the recent trauma of losing Laurel put both the narrator and Caitlin on edge, straining an already delicate situation with yet more images of death and loss. The seemingly pointless nature of the birds' deaths also reflect the sentiments Caitlin and her step-father feel about Laurel's, though they find it impossible to directly express their true feelings to each other. As the narrator and Caitlin band together to try and determine what is killing the birds, however, a bond grows between them, this very tragedy being the means through which they learn to communicate independently. This bittersweet story of loss, acceptance, and the discovery of peace through the most unlikely of circumstances is a testament to human resiliency. It serves as a reminder that it is possible to rise up through tragedy and embrace the good that remains in our lives, however little we think we have left. I would encourage any reader to spend just a couple of hours reading this memorable piece, as it carries a significance that far outweighs its small size.

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