Ornithologist's Guide to Life: Stories

Overview

"A collection of short stories that makes it possible to be proud to be human."—Carolyn See, Washington Post
Looking at her characters as if through a pair of binoculars, Ann Hood captures the extraordinary in the ordinary. A pregnant woman left by her husband cooks obsessively to cope with her loss, but never tastes a morsel. In an attempt to stay sober, a young alcoholic seduces her priest and embarks on a tour of caverns with him. An adolescent girl picks up bird-watching as a hobby and, in her newfound habit ...
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Overview

"A collection of short stories that makes it possible to be proud to be human."—Carolyn See, Washington Post
Looking at her characters as if through a pair of binoculars, Ann Hood captures the extraordinary in the ordinary. A pregnant woman left by her husband cooks obsessively to cope with her loss, but never tastes a morsel. In an attempt to stay sober, a young alcoholic seduces her priest and embarks on a tour of caverns with him. An adolescent girl picks up bird-watching as a hobby and, in her newfound habit of observing others, discovers a budding romance between her mother and her neighbor. These stories, many published in The Paris Review, Glimmer Train, Story, and The Colorado Review, are full of characters seeking an escape from their lives while uncovering small moments of understanding that often have huge implications and consequences. They discover that they can only find peace once they stop searching for a way out. Through diverse voices and lively storytelling, Hood creates authentic, personal, secret worlds full of eccentric detail.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A first collection by novelist Hood (Something Blue; Ruby; etc.) comprises 11 conventional but affecting stories that suffer from a back-cover comparison to Lorrie Moore and Antonya Nelson. The first, "Total Cave Darkness," is winning, relating the adventures of the alcoholic narrator (who has a tender love affair with the bottle) and a young, foxy minister on an injudicious road trip. "After Zane," which begins like Amy Hempel's masterful "Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep" with a woman who staves off grief through compulsive domesticity, features a narrator who bakes constantly after the father of her unborn child decamps. Wonderful in parts, flabby in others, the story strains, like others here, for a final-page profundity (often via a lovely but easy metaphor). A gentle story about the growing friendship between a pregnant divorc e and a Martha Stewart mom, for example, is marred by an ending that is simultaneously predictable and improbable. But Hood's stories can be quite moving: "Escapes" surprises with a fierce revelation that forges a stronger bond between a troubled young girl and her aunt, while in "The Language of Sorrow" a woman and her grandson grapple with matters of death and new life. Hood is a polished writer and a careful observer, and she walks the popular funny-sad line very well, but perhaps not as adroitly as the convention's aforementioned greats. Agent, Gail Hochman. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Hood (Ruby; Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine) focuses on relationships in these short stories, many of which were previously published in respected literary journals. Readers will meet an alcoholic and a minister on a rambling, adulterous tour of the mid-Atlantic; a woman and her teenaged grandson awaiting the birth of his child from a distance; a struggling couple who have a car accident, leaving the survivor to grieve; and three young girls who idolize the mother of their stepsister until they meet her. These stories have bite, much like Doris Lessing's newest, but they are not so stark. Hood has enough perception to leave her characters room to grow after the stories end. While each piece is distinctive, a continuity of voice ties them together. Recommended for libraries where there is an interest in short fiction or women's fiction.-Amy Ford, St. Mary's Cty. Memorial Lib., Lexington Park, MD Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut collection of 11 humorous, heartfelt stories by novelist Hood (Ruby, 1998, etc.), with characters who find small, determined ways to shock the bourgeoisie in and around Providence. The opener details a nutty affair between a 40-ish, teetering-on-the-wagon divorcee and the reverend who "saves" her. "Total Cave Darkness," which chronicles the pair's summer road trip across the country, brings into play all of Hood's marvelous skills: her quirky characterization, stylistic intelligence, and adroit timing combine to produce an ending that the reader feels in the gut. Elsewhere, while her people always come brilliantly to life, the author often spoils her delirious effects by forcing a pat conclusion. "The Rightness of Things," for example, pursues the deepening of an acquaintance between two young mothers, one married and one divorced, but ultimately disappoints when they fall out over conflicting ideas of sexual political correctness. "New People" has a similarly strained twist as it depicts the hot summer affair between middle-aged Marjorie, a longtime resident in the neighborhood, and her parvenu yard-boy. "Inside Gorbachev's Head" pursues another cross-generational romance, between Brown student Elliot and his mother's friend Georgia, while also tracing a bizarre network of relationships and adoptions. "Joelle's Mother," told in the first-person plural, revisits the painful prehistory of a family of sisters through the presence of their father's previous wife's daughter. Men don't necessarily behave well in these stories, particularly not fathers, who frequently desert or cheat on their wives (pregnant or otherwise), as in "After Zane." Hood strikes a more elegiac tone in "TheLanguage of Sorrow," which shows a 78-year-old woman's memories of her dead son being revived by her visiting grandson's similarly self-destructive behavior, and in the title story, a lovely description of an 11-year-old girl watching the behavior of birds and adults as she comes of age in 1974 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. A strong, fine collection overall, if not consistently stellar. (Many of these pieces first appeared in The Paris Review, Glimmer Train, etc.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393327045
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/17/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,091,453
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Hood is the best-selling author of The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread, and Comfort and The Obituary Writer, among other works. She has been the recipient of a Best American Spiritual Writing Award, a Best American Food Writing Award, a Best American Travel Writing Award, the Paul Bowles Prize for Short Fiction, and two Pushcart Prizes. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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Table of Contents

An Ornithologist's Guide to Life is, for one thing, a collection of short stories that makes it possible to be proud to be human; it's an antidote to the vulgarity, love-of-violence and bone-dumb stupidity we tend to encounter every day. (Or, maybe I just hang out with the wrong crowd.) These tales are unpretentious, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but all written from a position of tenderness so profound that at any moment, on any page, feeling bursts, explodes, into painful knowledge or knowledgeable pain.
The Washington Post
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