Three narrators. Three perspectives. Kate. Norma. Ivy. All island-bound, or freed. Perhaps we’re left to determine for ourselves. In Fishing for Birds, novelist Linda Quennec efficiently reveals facets of each protagonist, introducing us to these women – a young widow, her mother, and the spry nonagenarian Morrie-esque friend.
Kate: Morning is the most illuminating time, when it’s as calm as this – the ocean a heady, viscous ink. Other folks have yet to rise and fill the air with competing intentions.
Nora: She fusses with her apron and puts the pigs in blankets in neat little rows on her real silver platter. The kids had given it to her and Ed for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Ugliest damn thing she’s ever seen, but it’s the best she has for the occasion.And Ivy, young Ivy, memories of 1926: At first it was told her she was unsuitably dressed, that her stockings would become an implement of torture, that her jewellery, cheap beads swung round her neck, would slacken with sweat. As though to illustrate the point, trade winds had in no time dismantled her pin-tucked curls and set them free and fuzzy into the atmosphere, creating a cloud-like halo around her exhausted-yet-intoxicated head.
Quennec’s style is engaging, enjoyable to read, dialogue-heavy, akin to Elmore Leonard, with estrogen. Characters are relatable, displaying traits we either possess or are aware of in others. Settings too. The islands, whether British Columbian coastal or Caribbean – every offshore landmass, the smaller chunks in particular, have a common feel, similarities that bridge climate and culture. With three perspectives, three stories, and a blended past and present I’m reminded of a triptych-style room divider, the kind of folding wall a stage actor might change behind as someone – assuredly a suitor – looks on, garments tossed and draped atop, the action simultaneously discrete and evocative. But like those three-way walls, each distinct piece needs the others, adding strength required to stand independent.
Through Kate’s eyes, observing Ivy’s book club, we gain insight: A cluster of intellectuals, they are unassuming and joyful, yet sharp and empathic. Theirs is a hard won kind of joy, one that’s absorbed all kinds of experience and, instead of rejecting anything, has digested it into something more comprehensive and articulate.
Water swirls in this amalgam of island narratives, perhaps another character, a non-speaking role but pivotal, as all small part players will say.
Kate: Sucking in her breath, she releases the blanket and slides the rest of her body into the ocean, letting go, submerging as far as her weight will carry her. She used to do this as a child, trusting the creatures below to be benign and accommodating in the unseen depths that were beyond interpretation.
Kate of Nora: Nora would go to the beach, but she would never swim.
And young Ivy, on Isla de Piños (aka Isla de la Juventud): She hasn’t yet experienced the sensation of undisturbed water enveloping her body. … It whispers invitations to her, as though part of her has evaporated and transported itself over to her, releasing and replacing itself as it washes over and throughout her body, leaving no difference between the lake and the waters that compose her own being.
Together we experience loss of innocence – first sex (first love?), a break-in (break ins?), infidelity, new sentiments, layered on old – all of it shifting, evolutionary growth. And what does one do when they realize, albeit slowly, their late spouse was not a good person, not to them, or for them. As though emerging from water, wet and dripping, experience takes new forms.
Kate: We outgrow the skins of our affairs, she thinks, these amorphous things we think we understand. … Kate sleeps at Ivy’s again that night. She is beginning to forget where and to whom she belongs.
With growth, no different than our first relative, wriggling from surf to sand, gills gasping fresh air, we stumble upon terra firma, water ever-present.
Kate: Far below them, she can see the crags of rock that tumble out to meet splashing waves, and every now and then a beam of sun throws a spotlight onto one of them, allowing it to assert its presence, if only for a moment.
And through terrifying, empowering and inevitable revelations the watery hinges joining shared walls reveal themselves as a grounding, strengthening foundation – cornerstones of being human.
Kate of, and with, Ivy: Ivy with her huge ocean eyes, surveying. Ivy in her wheelchair, her sharp mind always endeavouring to release itself from her withering body. Ivy shaking her awake. Tendrils of Ivy wind themselves about the delicate parts of Kate’s imagination, growing lush and fertile.
A trilogy of tales – these characters, would be logical. Obvious. Quennec however, does not take the obvious, or easy route. Instead, she finds seemingly invisible seams, pulls loose threads and sews for us an encompassing story – rich in dialogue, narrative, thought, and the wealth of otherwise ordinary lives. We are resilient beings, compassionate, flawed and eternally strong. And in Fishing for Birds, author Linda Quennec shares with us a three-tiered slice of storytelling in a lovely balance of generous judiciousness.
About the author: Linda Quennec is a writer, traveller, and PhD student in Depth Psychology. An island-dweller at heart, she took inspiration for her novel Fishing for Birds from the natural beauty of Coastal British Columbia and the fascinating Isla de la Juventud (formerly Isla de Piños) where her German grandmother was raised. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Naropa University and is a graduate of The Writers’ Studio at Simon Fraser University and The Humber School of Writing. Her work has appeared in Quills Canadian Poetry, 3Elements Review, Cirque, Emerge, and DoveTales literary journals. She lives with her husband and twin daughters just outside Vancouver, British Columbia.
Fishing for Birds by Linda Quennec
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