In Hovering Flight

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ever since the goldfinches began appearing outside my window (my mother's spirit, I've thought, I think), I've been paying closer attention to their effervescence—the way their feathers go green, then gray in autumn; the way they'll sit on the spokes of their feeder, calm, while the bright male cardinal, the blue jay, the squirrel look with envy from the tree.

In Hovering Flight, Joyce Hinnefeld's glorious first novel, is, therefore, the perfect book for me this weekend. Perfect because it is about birds, ecology, mothers and daughters. Perfect because so much of it takes place not far from my own part of the world, in Bucks County. Perfect because if it is masterfully wrought—quiet yet momentous, cohering, heartfull, whole. Hinnefeld is a gifted, informed, intelligent writer—careful, tender, never excessive—and in unraveling this story about a bird-loving professor and the student who becomes his wife, this story about their daughter, this story about eco-activism and a decision to die, Hinnefeld yields what feels to be a true, uncompromised story in language clear as bird call.

Listen, for example, to these few lines from Flight's beginning. It would have been easy to muck this up with too many words, too many adjectives, some compound metaphor. Hinnefeld restrains herself, avoids complication, and yields the tang of beauty:

"What she wanted was not only to draw birds but to understand them, to come as close as she could to feeling what it was like to fly with hollow bones. To sit atop a warm and throbbing egg within a delicate bed that rests in the crook of a branch. To sing not from something like a human throat but from a place deep within the breast."

I'd had plans for months to buy this book. Ron Charles' review in last Sunday's Washington Post made me feel as if I could wait no longer:


PJ Hoover said...

Sounds fantastic! And I love that you feel you mother's spirit in the goldfinches! Love that more than anything!

Gutsy Living said...

I felt my mother's spirit in a red robin that flew into our living room the day after she passed away in Paris, where I lived during my youth.

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