Praise for A Catalog of Birds
“Stunning natural descriptions provide a rich backdrop for Harrington’s beautifully articulated coming-of-age story, which captures the pain of loved ones grappling with the after effects of war.”
“A sensitive rendering of shattered lives.”
“ … one of the great pleasures of reading A Catalog of Birds is that it’s as impossible to categorize as it is to put down. The smooth path of Nell’s life is interrupted by tragedy. Her best friend, Megan, disappears mysteriously, and her beloved brother, Billy, comes home from Vietnam severely injured. At once, the novel becomes a searing war story and a page-turning thriller.”
—The Washington Post
"Her prose sings, sweeping through heavy topics with a quiet sense of resilience and buoyant hope."
"In language that is both lyrical and horrifying, A Catalog of Birds questions what it means to be an American, and offers what can be salvaged, or hoped, for a future."
“Harrington’s prose is fierce and tender both, and the story so powerful. Taut and true, A Catalog of Birds is a beautiful book about family, loss and love. Its memorable characters will haunt you long after you put it down.”
—Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs
“Laura Harrington’s lyrical and unforgettable A Catalog of Birds explores what makes a life worth living. Harrington paints both human frailties and the Vietnam conflict with empathetic clarity she does best and the parallels between our recent wars in the Middle-East are both nuanced and startlingly wise.”
—Siobahn Fallon, The Confusion of Languages
“ A Catalog of Birds is a heartbreaking journey into the soul of America.”
— Randy Susan Meyers , The Widow of Wall Street
“Laura Harrington has written a rich, dense, beautifully crafted novel.”
—Ann Napolitano , A Good Hard Look
“There is a fierceness to this book. A Catalog of Birds is an absolute marvel of a novel.”
—Robin Black, Life Drawing
“ A Catalogue of Birds immerses us in a world of family love; of yearning and faith and the devastation wrought by war on the human heart. Laura Harrington weaves American history and natural history into a riveting story of damage and resilience. Harrington's voice is as clear and distinctive as a bird call.”
—Rachel Kadish, award-winning author of The Weight of Ink
"Laura Harrington’s new novel, A Catalog of Birds , is as accomplished as it is brave. As writers continue to peel away the layers of our involvement in Vietnam, few have ventured as close to the bone as Harrington."
— Wicked Local Beverly
Praise for Alice Bliss
"Nothing less than a fully realized vision of a young complicated girl."
— Entertainment Weekly
"Harrington's first novel makes a powerful statement against the war. Her story is harrowing and heartbreaking, it reads like truth."
—Sue Corbett, People Magazine (four stars)
"Alice Bliss is a heroine of her day whose relationship with her father is tenderly and movingly realized."
— London Sunday Times
"Though the fluid narration offers access to many characters, this is the story of Alice, her courage, fear, and optimism, and her heartbreaking discovery of the extent to which her father's life will shape and guide her own."
— Publishers Weekly
"Starred Review. This is a remarkably sensitive first novel, full of splendid characterizations."
"Heartbreaking yet edged with promise, Alice Bliss explores the wounds of war, love, and family bonds while illuminating the strength of a young girl's spirit. A stunning debut."
—Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
The Vietnam War traumatizes a soldier and his family.In her quietly affecting second novel, playwright, lyricist, and librettist Harrington (Alice Bliss, 2011) returns to upstate New York, the setting of her previous fiction, and to a family grappling with the horrific war injury sustained by their son, Billy. When his helicopter was shot down, Billy alone survived, severely burned. A hospital stay is followed by challenging physical therapy that leaves him despondent, afraid he will never draw again—and drawing is his passion. The bird catalog of the title refers to Billy's field journals, depicting in precise, brilliant detail the proliferation of birds he observed in woods, lakes, and fields. Drawing birds, he says, became "a doorway, a bridge….It's how I lived in the world." The central relationship of the novel is between Billy and his younger sister, Nell, with whom he shares the wonders of nature. Frustrated and powerless to help Billy, Nell watches in despair as he succumbs to drink, depression, and nightmares. Although Billy is a sympathetic character, his traumas are by now familiar in novels and memoirs of the Vietnam War, his distinction being his artistic talent and connection to nature. Yet the natural world that he so deeply loves is being destroyed: Nell documents songbirds' levels of mercury, a toxin that attacks the birds' nervous systems, distracting them from sitting on their eggs long enough to hatch. Billy reports on a "rainbow moniker" of chemical agents used in Vietnam; Nell's father engages in a project to monitor water and soil contamination from pesticides. Subplots focus on Nell's deepening love for the solid, dependable Harlow, also a survivor of war; and the unsolved disappearance of Nell's best friend, and Billy's love, Megan. That mystery underscores Billy's sense of loss and the community's fear of being caught in a whirl of uncontrollable events—the war far from home and an unknown threat close by. It is a community, filled with those "suffering in mind, body or spirit." A sensitive rendering of shattered lives.