Title: The Bird House
Author: Kelly Simmons
Publisher: Washington Square Press, a division of Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: February 1, 2011 (originally released in 2010)
Paperback, 288 pages
ISBN 10: 1439160937
ISBN 13: 9781439160930
From Publisher's Weekly:
Simmons (Standing Still) smoothly shifts between past and present in her complex and poignant second novel, told from the point of view of a courageous woman suffering from dementia. Ann Biddle, a venerable Main Line lady, may have trouble remembering current dates and times, but she clearly remembers the details of her daughter's death, her troubled marriage, and the man who has always truly loved her. When a school project gives Ann the opportunity to spend time with her eight-year-old granddaughter, Ellie, Ann is determined not to allow Tinsley, her controlling daughter-in-law, to sabotage their burgeoning relationship, even if it means a little extortion. By the end, Ann can declare: "We had our own constitution now, our little family, built on a solid foundation of lies, secrets, regrets, and debts. But even dark underpinnings can support something solid and light, can they not?" Enthralled readers will agree.
First Sentence: Beneath the surface of any problem, if you scrabble a bit, you'll find a secret.
The description above makes it sound like the protagonist is a likable person. She isn't. She's bitter; she seems to have resented and maybe even disliked her children when they were small; she was unfaithful to her husband, and she is full of pettiness.
In spite of this, this novel is a tightly-woven tale that swings from past to present - a dark family drama that pits Ann, 70 years old, a graduate of Bryn Mawr and a Main Line fixture, against her daughter-in-law Tinsley, an over-protective mother to Ellie, Ann's only grandchild from her remaining son, Tom.
As Ellie begins to spend more time with Ann working on a generational family project for school, Tinsley seems to go out of her way to keep them from doing so. Ellie chooses bird houses as the theme, having seen them in old photographs and one currently in Ann's tree branches and Tinsley seems to go out of her way to discredit Ann as an influence on "her" 8-year-old daughter. Through their interplay, and the memories that Ann begins to bring to the surface, we see how Ann's circumstances were greatly reduced as a child when her father left her mother, taking all of her mother's money with him through fraud. We read about generations of faithlessness and it's impact, and we learn about Emma, Ann's daughter, who tragically died when she was young. As the battle of wills heats up between Ann and Tinsley, Tom ends up in the hospital with a heart issue at 39 years old, and memories of Theo, his father, dead of a heart attack while playing tennis, are forcefully brought to the surface.
Within this family circle, more secrets are brought out and played on, and in spite of my dislike for Ann, I still experienced a sense of justice in her small victories.
Character-driven and rather intense, this author manages to pull the reader into the battle. Which side will you pick?
Forty years ago, my young daughter died because of something I did.
What a waste, to be chaste in high school. What silly fools we were. Were we saving ourselves for infidelity, for cheating and lies?
I sighed. These were my coworkers - the toddler, the baby. This was my job - the meals, the dishes, the diapers, the tantrums. The world's tiniest, most claustrophobic factory. The hours were unbearable and the conditions were apparently not going to improve.
Writing: 5 out of 5 stars
Plot: 4 out of 5 stars
Characters: 4 out of 5 starsReading Immersion: 4 out 5 stars
BOOK RATING: 4.25 out of 5 stars
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|This book is listed as one of my titles for the ARC Reading Challenge 2011|