book review: The Bird Skinner by Alice Greenway

The basics:  "Jim Kennoway was once an esteemed member of the ornithology department at the Museum of Natural History in New York, collecting and skinning birds as specimens. Slowing down from a hard-lived life and a recent leg amputation, Jim retreats to an island in Maine: to drink, smoke, and to be left alone. As a young man he worked for Naval Intelligence during World War II in the Solomon Islands. While spying on Japanese shipping from behind enemy lines, Jim befriended Tosca, a young islander who worked with him as a scout. Now, thirty years later, Tosca has sent his daughter Cadillac to stay with Jim in the weeks before she begins premedical studies at Yale. She arrives to Jim’s consternation, yet she will capture his heart and the hearts of everyone she meets, irrevocably changing their lives." (from publisher)

My thoughts: I knew very little about this novel when I began reading. I picked up a copy at ALA in June because of the praise for Greenway's first novel, White Ghost Girls. At first, I was enchanted with Greenway's prose, characters, and setting. I was curious how the storylines would connect and what would be revealed about the past to impact my understanding of the novel's present. Greenway did bring everything together, but the more I read, the more unsatisfied I was as a reader. Admittedly, this novel requires some patience from the reader, which is somewhat of a feat in 320 pages, and I enjoyed it most when I read longer passages in a single sitting. While there was much I liked about this novel, it's execution fell rather flat for me. I turned the last page with a sense of relief and ambivalence, but Greenway's prose was strong enough that I will absolutely read her next novel, even as this one left be unsatisfied.

The verdict: As much as I enjoyed Greenway's prose and character descriptions, I found the plot to be too slow and unsatisfying. After a strong set up, I soon found myself bored by the lack of action, and Greenway's writing wasn't enough to keep be as engaged as I was in the novel's early pages.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 7, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Bird Skinner from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

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  1. Hmm, I have a copy of this one and am looking forward to reading it, but now I'm worried about the lack of action.

  2. Hrm. Not sure if this quite for me.

    I'm reading A Different Sun by Elaine Neil Orr and I think it might be a book you'd enjoy. Not sure if it's on your radar -- I'm reminded of Barbara Kingsolver and Geraldine Brooks. I'm really quite enamored of it at the moment!


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