Toronto author Carole Giangrande’s newest novel, The Tender Birds (Inanna Publications) is a type of sequel to her outstanding 2017 novel All That is Solid Melts Into Air in that it expands on the character of Matthew Reilly, the lover of Valerie who leaves her with child and goes off to the Vietnam War. The bulk of the novel takes place in recent years (post 9/11), but there are several instances when the reader is taken back to incidents in a character’s past. In the present day, Matthew is now a priest serving in a diocese in Boston. The book begins with him missing his flight, which saved his life, for it was one of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center.
“You were blessed to miss that plane” he is told by Alison (more on her in a moment).
“Sometimes we are blessed,” he said, “at the expense of others.”
“You came to this parish. A simple place. A retreat.”
“And now it’s closing.”
“I’ve given up trying to understand the world,” she continued. “I live with mystery enough.” She glanced at Daisy [the falcon] as she turned her head in Matt’s direction.
“Yes,” he said. “I can see.”
“The care of falcons is a spiritual practice. I can show you.”
Alison and Daisy her Peregrine falcon have a story all their own. Both are broken in a physical and emotional sense. Daisy was crippled from an accident on her first flight. She was brought to an animal shelter at which Alison worked as a veterinary tech by a policeman who saw her crash. Alison’s past growing up in Toronto was impacted by her beloved father (who enjoyed falconry) dying alone in his cabin when she was ten years old. Later, when she is a teen, her mother leaves her alone in Toronto (she provides rent money) after moving to Montreal with her boyfriend. (There’s a lot more to Alison’s story.)
Eventually, Alison ends up in Boston, returning to the birthplace of her father, and it is here she is employed as a veterinary tech. She and Daisy attend St. Bart’s where Matt is serving as a priest. Daisy is allowed to attend Mass, much to the consternation of other members of the congregation. She and Alison sit near the back.
The outstanding thing about The Tender Birds is that Ms. Giangrande has created not only a protagonist of Daisy but has made one of God’s creatures a receptacle of sorts for the sorrows of many, not just for Alison, but for all whom Daisy comes into contact with. “I believe that Daisy is capable of love,” Alison tells Matt.
Why a Peregrine falcon? Alison appears quite assured, or at least confident in her own spirituality, certainly more so than Father Matt. I believe that by the time we meet Alison, the rescue and rehabilitation of Daisy have fulfilled its purpose as far as Alison is concerned. Now Daisy is her companion, but also a constant symbol of God’s love and strength. Furthermore, Alison can trust Daisy. (Many humans have broken her trust in the past) So, Daisy is not a crutch or an idol, but a representation. It is in this sense that Alison uses Daisy to comfort the homeless and others she comes in contact with. How many of us get to see such a magnificent creature up close? Who would not be in awe? I know I would be. Matt watches fascinated as Alison and Daisy move easily amongst the street people of Boston Commons.
Drifting over to a park bench, she sat down beside an unshaven, derelict man, a bundle buggy beside him and a cup for the spare change of passersby. God knows what he’s spending it on, Matt thought. Booze and drugs. And then he felt ashamed of his tendency to harsh judgment, because Alison reached down and put money in that cup. Alison needs protection from her innocence, he thought. She had a conversation with the man, showing off Daisy who lifted her wings, and he thought that one or both of them might be angelic, beloved of God, unsuited to live in this terrible world.
What fascinates me most about Ms. Giangrande’s writing is her ability to let the story unfold at a reasonable pace. Matt’s and Alison’s stories are told neither in a brisk way nor so slow that the reader (at least this one) gets bored or distracted. She is also proficient at creating memorable word images.
- Matt watched Alison as she slipped through the tree like a needle threading an imagined world through the fabric of the real.
- Something wrong, something unsteady in his look, like the flicker and dimming of electric lights before the system crashes.
- Nothing more than one of those frustrating thoughts that circles the drain and slips through the strainer of old age.
In summary, I want to mention that I haven’t told a fraction of the stories this novel contains. To mention them all would be to write too much, and possibly give away too much. It’s better to say less about a book that is so much more. So many delicate thoughts and emotions are conveyed throughout the entire book. Amazing. It’s been three years since All That Is Solid and the wait was worth it. Needless to say, I am long listing The Tender Birds for 2020 for “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Fiction. 5 stars!
“A literary page-turner of the highest order. I’m in awe of Giangrande’s work and the reassuring wisdom that suffuses it, wisdom our world badly needs right now” — Carol Bruneau, author of A Circle on the Surface
The Tender Birds by Carole Giangrande
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