Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reader's Diary #1449- Tracey Lindberg: Birdie

For all the counselors out there who think calling it a "break through" rather than a "breakdown," is wise: stop. It's cheesy and your clients will mock you behind your back. Not that there can't be some truth to the sentiment.

For all intents and purposes, Birdie, Tracey Lindberg's titular character, is having a breakdown. She was the victim of chronic sexual assault from a young age, had identity confusion, and made some decisions along the way she wasn't too proud of. Now she's drawn into herself, not communicating with those around her and not eating. Needless to say, on an emotional level, Birdie is a difficult read.

But it's difficult in other ways as well. Because much of the story is Birdie's reflections, the timeline is often confusing and the details are sometimes scattered. Sometimes, too, the story switches to the women around her. It's also very female-oriented and about Cree culture; two perspectives that I as a white male do not share. Even the grammar is unfamiliar. Lindberg invents new composite words to capture a feeling or image (e.g., smilesnarl).  Sentence fragments are par for the course.

For all of this, it was not only readable but left me feeling rewarded in the end. I felt as if I learned something about female relationships, about Cree culture, about the written language, about mental/emotional recovery, and most importantly about Birdie. Without that last part, it had the potential to be preachy, but it was all wonderfully grounded in this complex, likeable character... who, spoiler alert, has a break through.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I actually don't mind newly minted words in a story. Sometimes they can convey a movement or an emotion that never had a word of its own.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: I quite liked them too for precisely the reason you said. I wasn't as sure about the sentence fragments though. Even "And." was sometimes its own sentence. I'd respect the inventiveness and poetry of it more if I understood it. That said, it definitely felt purposeful and perhaps if I read it a few more times I'd get the reasoning. One of those cases where I think the fault might lie with me.

Melwyk said...

I thought this book was brilliant. But it did take me two tries to get going on it; like you say, it's a bit difficult, but very rewarding. I thought the fragmentary nature and new words reflected Birdie's thought processes well, and sounded like the way we speak, quite frequently.

Buried In Print said...

One of the reasons that I think she is so successful at making such a hard story so accessible is that she keeps the pace moving throughout and it's not an overly long novel; were Birdie's voice less gripping and the pagecount higher, I think I might have dropped off. But, wow, such a great story just as it stands!