From the critically acclaimed author of Standing Still comes a psychologically charged novel about the power and failure of family.
“Kelly Simmons' The Bird House deconstructs the American family with lyrical prose, sharp insights, and heartbreaking honesty. Deeply moving and very powerful.” —Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Rot & Ruin
“Kelly Simmons is able to clearly capture the voice of an elderly woman and tell her story in such crisp, tight prose I was hooked from the very first page. The Bird House is more than a suspenseful story, though—it’s about secrets: family secrets. And those are always the best kept ones.” —Chevy Stevens, New York Times bestselling author of Still Missing
“Simmons smoothly shifts between past and present in her complex and poignant second novel, told from the point of view of a courageous woman suffering from dementia.” —Publishers Weekly
“The writing is so evocative and detailed in its depiction of the inevitable reckonings that come with age.” —Kirkus Reviews
"A great title for book groups that enjoy strong female characters." Library Journal
“Mothers and daughters and family secrets permeate this surprisingly dark novel of modern family life.” —Booklist
“With the turn of each crisp page or the slide of a finger on your e-book, there’s no doubt that Kelly Simmons’ two novels are anything less than masterpieces.... The Bird House has solidified Kelly Simmons’ spot as a captivating, talented writer who intimately connects her countless readers to a secret past.” —Mainline Magazine
“Some novels are meant to be read slowly, savoring each word, while others push you to keep turning pages, teased on by the promise of secrets revealed. And then there are novels that are both, like The Bird House by Kelly Simmons. This book is so beautifully written that I felt guilty racing through it to discover what happens, and so I read it a second time, happy to spend another day under the spell of the story's brilliantly realized narrator.” —Lisa Tucker, author of The Winters in Bloom
An intergenerational school project unlocks a Pandora's box of unsettling truths.
Ann, 70, is aging gracefully in the well-appointed Bryn Mawr home she once shared with her architect husband Theo, who died young of a heart attack. She is still haunted by the death of her daughter Emma at age four, a death, which, she hints at the beginning, she caused. Up to now, Ann has had a perfunctory, holidays-only acquaintance with her young granddaughter, Ellie. Ellie's father, Ann's son Tom, a lawyer, is married to Tinsley, an overprotective parent even by today's standards. When Ellie seeks Ann's help in compiling a scrapbook of family memories, their relationship blossoms. But digging through musty memorabilia forces Ann to relive the precipitous decline of her once-proud Philadelphia Main Line family. Demented and cancer-ridden, Ann's mother finished her days in a nursing home after Ann's father absconded with the family fortune. Ann rebuffed her father's efforts to explain his conduct, and he died unforgiven. The story alternates between 2010 and 1967, a momentous year when Ann, still nursing infant Tom, is diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoes a mastectomy. That same year, she has a soul-wrenching affair with Peter, a high-school sweetheart she'd never really gotten over. Tinsley, upset that Ann "crossed boundaries" with Ellie by telling her about breast cancer, threatens to stop Ann and Ellie's "play dates." If Ann must resort to blackmail to see Ellie, she has the ammunition: proof that Tinsley has been unfaithful to Tom. Ultimately all of Ann's assumptions about her family history will be upended. But Simmons' exposition is so sparing—revealing tiny inconsistencies rather than smoking guns—that the book's resolution is needlessly opaque. The writing is so evocative and detailed in its depiction of the inevitable reckonings that come with age, and of Ann's subtle, possibly calculated memory slips, that more "explainers" would have been welcome.
Hope at the bottom of the box, not least for more from this talented author.
- Washington Square Press
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- 5.38(w) x 8.21(h) x 0.79(d)
Read an Excerpt
October 22, 2010
Beneath the surface of any problem, if you scrabble a bit, you’ll find a secret.
It may take a while—decades perhaps—not for your excavation, mind you, but for your desire to appear; for that childlike curiosity to float up again. Indeed, you may need an actual child to summon it, as I did.
But this is what drives us—the historians, the trash pickers, the gossips, the shrinks. And yes, the readers of books. We’re all rooting around, teasing out other people’s hidden reasons.
Haven’t we all profited from another’s heartache? Anything antique or inherited comes to you out of pain. And it comes to you, doesn’t it? Why, even the comforting of a sniveling acquaintance carries a sweet center: after they sob on your shoulder, they will tell you why.
Please don’t say I’m drawn to others’ secrets because I have several in my own deep past. That’s a bit tidy, don’t you think? In fact, I’ll come clean with a confession right now. Perhaps that will make you feel better about my motives.
Forty years ago, my young daughter died because of something I did. Notice I stop short of saying I killed her, even though I clearly did. No one knows this. Do you think my daughter-in-law would ever let me near my granddaughter if she knew?
I didn’t bury this pivotal event, or suffocate it in a cloud of good works, as so many venerable Main Line ladies would, yet much of it, the details especially, have sloughed away. By necessity, by neglect, by a need for the widow to soldier on. And yes, by the failure of my own memory. Call it what you will: “senior moments,” old age, dementia. It’s inevitable, that’s what it is. You go right ahead and complete all the crosswords your children press on you; but know they can keep you only so sharp.
Sometimes my memory of that awful day wanders away completely, and when it returns, it jolts me, like falling in dreams. I can’t summon my actions in crystal detail anymore; I see the house, that room, through a haze, in pieces. I can see the maple tree outside the window, and beyond it, the old field on one side and the park with the verdigris Revolutionary War statue on the other. But I’ve forgotten, for instance, what time it was; whether the light sparkled when it hit the water, or cast shadows across it, making it look more gray and deeper than it actually was. I draw a blank on whether the baby cried in the distance, or where Peter was hiding—in the cellar; in the field; or in the small, dark shed. Parts of it are gone, perhaps forever. I miss the details, the small intricacies of many things now, even this. All the more reason to continue to write things down in my diary. All the more reason for me to take my pictures, to hang on to scrapbooks and photo albums in steamer trunks. All the more reason to collect evidence.
This morning, for instance, I completely forgot that I’d been to the lawyer. My newest secret, and I only remembered when I opened my freezer and saw what I’d hidden there. Imagine!
It will all come out in time, the tidbits I’ve learned and swung round to my advantage. But I did not set out to do any of it, and neither did Ellie. It’s important you believe me. The natural order of things merely took over. The drive to dig pulled us like the tides.
All we did, after all, was pay attention. You should try it sometime. Watch a woman’s face as she fingers her antique locket. Hear the jangle of charm bracelets covering up an ancestor’s cries. Feel the ring handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, how the gold is worn down at the back by everything they’d done while wearing it—all the games they’d played, all the people they’d touched, all the things they’d held and broken.
It’s all there, in every jewelry box and trunk, every photo album and yellowed postcard, every attic and basement. Just look, and you’ll see what I mean. You don’t have to travel to a lost city to find the artifacts of a mysterious society. Just go ask your grandmother.
© Kelly Simmons
Meet the Author
Kelly Simmons is a former journalist and advertising creative director specializing in marketing to women. She lives with her family outside Philadelphia. Please visit her website at ByKellySimmons.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Kelly Simmons writing style pulls you right in from the beginning. The book flows effortlessly and was a joy to read. The last time I read something like this was The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I borrowed this book from the library and I enjoyed it so much I am going to purchase a copy for myself.
This is the story of a mother haunted by a secret she has long kept hidden. Now as she grows old, she finds she must come to terms with an act she committed as a young mother.the secret she kept will come out. As Grandma Ann Biddle assists her 8 year old granddaughter Ellie with a school project, she finds herself questioning her memory of the past. She finds herself wondering what is actually a memory, and what is her impression of the event. Ann is no longer sure what really happened, or the way things really happened. She isn't sure if her recollections are things she created to protect herself from the truth, and the pain of the past. She knows she must face the facts before it is too late. Ann's daughter-in-law Tinsley is Ellie's mother. She feels the need to protect her own daughter from Ann. Unsure of Ann's health and tenuous grip on reality, Tinsley feels responsible for monitoring the bond, as well as past secrets and their effect on the family's future. Time will tell. Secrets always come out, one way or another. Family shares your history. These three generations of women will come together because of heartbreak, but ultimately for healing. Indeed there is strength in numbers, and in love.
In Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, septuagenarian Ann Biddle knows her short term memory is failing her as she suffers from dementia. On the other hand her long term memory works better than ever as recalls in vivid detail her past; especially traumatic events. She knows everything about her daughter's death and her failed marriage, for instance. Her eight years old granddaughter Ellie asks for her help with a school project. Ann is excited, but knows her daughter-in-law Tinsley will interfere as she cocoons her daughter from hurts. As Ann and Tinsley war over Ellie, the child feels unsure what to do as she does not want to hurt either her mom or grandma but struggles with her older loved ones trying to control her relationship with the other. The Bird House is a wonderful family drama that looks deeply at the relationship between three generations of women. The story line in some ways is a parable about the American family as Ann begins to understand nuances re her mom and grandma at war over her. For instance, the little girl concludes "A house divided against itself cannot stand" (Lincoln) and her loved ones created a governance "constitution" built on lies and secrets that led to remorse and regrets, but remains strong and positive. With three real people acting and reacting in genuine ways, Kelly Simmons provides a super relationship feud in which one family represents the national family. Harriet Klausner
Looking for a beautifully written and spellbinding novel? Well, look no further because Kelly Simmon's The Bird House is the novel for you. Startling, eloquent, and immersing, I was hooked from the first page until the very last, and even then I was close to begging for more, more, and more of these richly developed characters and the world they live in. The Bird House tells the story of Ann Biddle, a woman whose dealt with more loss, death, and pain than any good person should, and now after more than seventy years of life, she's beginning to deal with the starting stages of Alzheimer's. Though, when given the chance to create a strong bond and relationship with her precious granddaughter Ellie over Ellie's school project, Ann jumps at the chance. Little do they know that this school project over family histories will lead to not only secrets spilling out from every door and pathway possible, but to Ann's looking over of her life: the choices she made and what they meant for her and her family. Will Ann be able to handle it? And what happens when she and Ellie learns more than they should? Only time will tell in this richly told story intertwining past and present times. Not only because of Ann's early stages of memory loss but the fact that this story is told strictly in her diary entries over the years, Anne is in all ways an unreliable narrator but in the best way possible. For one, it lead to this story to have a compelling and unique voice, one that constantly lead me flipping the pages eager to find out more about Ann's life, such as what happened to her daughter? Or, better yet, what happened between her and her high school sweetheart, as well as much, much more. Plus I was constantly questioning whether or not she was always telling the truth or merrily exaggerating some aspects. More importantly, I loved her granddaughter Ellie. Ellie was a sweetheart. Cautious, honest, and sweet, I could clearly see what Ann loved her so much. Though, what I liked most about both characters was the bond they began to form over the course of the novel, because not only did it play an important part in making this The Bird House an amazing book, but it was admirable and relatable to any girl or boy whose been close to a grandparent, in my opinion. I also really enjoyed the way Kelly Simmons told this story in diary entries of past and current times, because not only did she effortless tie everything together in a picture perfect way that never left me feeling like I wasn't getting a clear image, but she did so in a way that it made The Bird House compelling and full of dirty little secrets I couldn't wait to find out more about. Lastly, as I'm sure you can already guess, I loved Simmons' writing. It's beautiful, poignant, and eloquent and it made this novel flow in a perfect pace. Also, she did such a suburb job of getting the voices of her many characters and setting down in a way that I could easily picture everything and feel like I was right there. In all, The Bird House is most ways a nearly perfect novel, in my opinion. I simply can't wait to read more by Simmons, as I'm sure she has many, many more fabulous novels and ideas up her shelves. Oh, and while this novel is labeled adult fiction, I don't see any reason why older teens wouldn't enjoy it. Grade: A+
Slow start but great finish. A book almost everyone will be able to relate to.
Kelly Simmons "The Bird House" is narrated by Ann - a widow, a mother, a grandmother...a woman of secrets in a family full of women with secrets. Ann's granddaughter Ellie is assigned a school project on "Generations" and through Ann's working with her granddaughter on this, their relationship develops and their family history is gradually revealed. Though Ann's memory is impaired at times, we learn of past events through the journals that she has kept. Ms. Simmons tells a good story and engages us with interesting characters. This is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, as well as being a very good discussion book for book clubs."
What is true? What is real? What is forgotten and what can never be erased? In a lifetime of good intentions we all have our share of secrets, regrets, and undiscovered passions. And digging through old letters, connecting the importance of a ring with something said long ago, really looking at what is around you, well, it can change your entire view of your world. The Bird House by Kelly Simmons takes the reader on a mesmerizing journey into one woman's past and beyond in this sparkling and engrossing novel you'll want to recommend to everyone you know. The characters are real, the situations at once startling yet believable. I found myself glad that I couldn't sleep last night, because that meant I could get back to this novel and read it through to the end. How many novels are good enough for that? After finishing the last page I had that "I just read something truly amazing" feeling. The lingering of images and emotions. The sadness, as if parting from a very dear friend.. Simmons writes of a granddaughter who is brutally honest, and who needs to do a family heritage project with her grandmother. She takes us into the head of Ann, a seventy-something woman of high intelligence and so-so memory, who skips us back and forth through time. Her past is a life full of promise, then terrible loss and guilt. In her present, Ann finds her heart being won over by her granddaughter, a child who asks all the wrong questions in just the right way. And Ann finds answers she hadn't even known she was seeking. The story is at once heart-wrenching and hilarious. Ann has a tart tongue and a sharp eye, making her the ideal narrator casting a witty eye on everything from egocentric architects, Main Line Philadelphia elite, the claustrophobic existence of a new mother, the horrors of those tacky birthday party activity joints, and the temptations of a forbidden lover. The author quickly envelops you with sharp imagery, true tension, mystery, passion and deeply-felt love. Her writing reminds me of Anne Tyler's: amazingly brilliant, yet so accessible. So read The Bird House, love it, share it. Your friends will be glad you did! Very highly recommended.