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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- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 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
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