The Bird House/Kelly Simmons: Reflections

Saturday, September 3, 2011

No, that isn't actually a bird house pictured above (as astute readers will surely divine), but it is an iconic bit of architecture on Philadelphia's Main Line (do I have guessers?).  I begin with this image because I've been reading Kelly Simmons' The Bird House this morning, a wonderfully complex, Main-Line-Philadelphia-saturated second novel about (here we go again, the dreaded plot summary) a woman on the edge of early dementia and her relationship with her eight-year-old grandchild.  Okay, it's about more than that.  It's about family secrets and honor, judgments and forgiveness, the things that get passed on.  It's hard to hide your secrets in this life.  It's harder, even, to guess who has already secretly found your secrets out.  And despite who we are or who we want to be, it's really really really important that nothing separate a loving grandmother from a super special child.

The Bird House has been on my TBR list for quite some time.  I liked what I was hearing about the book—absolutely—and I like what I know about the author, formerly the chief creative officer of the impressive Philadelphia ad agency, Tierney, and now the president of Bubble Advertising, which trains its wise eye on the xx's among us.  Simmons has been called one of the most winningest ad writers on the east coast, and you don't have to read more than a clutch of pages from this fine novel to know you are in good hands.  The woman sees.  The woman can write.  And her dialogue snaps and sizzles. 

The Bird House is a weaving book—diary passages tell us the tale.  We alternate between the early months of 2010 and the heady days of 1967—between memories that our narrator wishes she could suppress and memories she hopes never to forget.  The diary entries may be a necessary structural vehicle, but they never interfere with the narrative, nor do they get in the way of Ann Biddle's remarkable voice, more ironic than nostalgic, perhaps, and often funny, despite the dark secrets that she keeps.

Here's an example of what I mean.  You'll have to purchase the book to read more.

A handful of men around my age sat on stools, looking as if they'd stopped off to have a few drinks and pick up their wives' birthday cards.  Familiar red baskets of glistening onion rings and French fries slide across the wooden bar with a kind of grace impossible to find at a fast-food restaurant. There is more to inexpensive food than inexpensive ingredients: there has to be humility. Hardworking humility. I was comforted by the dirty aprons and dented spoons; they spoke of effort and toil.  The muscles in the young woman's arm flexed as she scooped the ice cream for Ellie's float; anything good, anything worthy, I wanted to tell her, took some doing.


KFP said...

The Bird House has been on my TBR list, so now I know it belongs there for sure. Also, I am going to guess that photo is something that can be seen on the Devon Horse Show grounds? Because you said "iconic" and the Devon Horse Show is a Main Line institution. Also, I was just drove by there recently and noticed the blue-colored wood for some reason (yes, I know, being local gives me an unfair advantage over other readers here). Plus I know you love it there and like to take photographs there.

If I'm right can I win your copy of The Bird House?

Just kidding.

Beth F said...

I was just looking at the cover this book the other day. I have it on my list but didn't realize it was Main Line book... that just adds to my interest. I'll try to get to it before the end of the year.

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