Saturday, February 4, 2012
The Bird House
Washington Square Press, 2011
Ann Biddle is 70 years old and a widow who has started to forget things. It may be little things, like the location of her purse or a lunch date with a friend, but despite her best efforts, she can’t forget things that happened forty years ago. Her grandchild, Ellie, has a school assignment about her family history that renews Ann’s relationship with her only grandchild, her son, and his wife, Tinsley. Tinsley is overprotective of Ellie, perhaps more so because she knows that Ann’s daughter died many years ago when she was only four years old. Ann has always blamed herself for her death.
Prompted by Ellie’s questions about the past, Ann is forced to relive some of the life-changing events that occurred when she was a young mother: a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment; a school reunion that reconnected her with an old boyfriend; and her struggle to deal with a difficult child. When she told Ellie about the cancer recurring, Tinsley objected to the disclosure and started limiting their visits. Meanwhile Ellie has been sharing her observations about Tinsley’s special friendship with another man, and Ann decides to use that knowledge as leverage to see her granddaughter. Then Ann’s old boyfriend reconnects after many years, and she struggles with the idea of pursuing a relationship with him now that she has been alone for so long.
Although the cover of this book may cause readers to assume it is a heartwarming story of an elderly woman and her family, it is anything but. Ann is a mean and manipulative woman who threatens her daughter-in-law in order to get what she wants – a relationship with her granddaughter. And yet, after learning about her past sorrows and hardships, perhaps we can understand how she came to be this way. Her husband was not the most sympathetic of men; her daughter who died obviously had some emotional issues; and her approaching dementia could explain some of her personality changes. I found this book to be deceptively complex, thought-provoking and disturbing to read. At first I was sympathetic to Ann’s problems, but the more I got into the story the more I suspected that Ann’s issues probably stemmed from her own unhappiness with her marriage and role as a stay-at-home mother. It was hard to like Ann, but I still admired her courage and daring in order to finally get what she wanted while she still had the mental and physical abilities to enjoy them.
Other novels by this author:
Standing Still (2008)
Other titles you may enjoy:
The Little House by Philippa Gregory (1996)
Giving up her job as a reporter for a mediocre radio station, Ruth Cleary becomes pregnant and moves to Bath, only to become lonely and depressed and find that her mother-in-law is beginning to control and manipulate her life.
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah (2010)
Reunited when their beloved father falls ill, sisters Meredith and Nina find themselves under the shadow of their disapproving mother, whose painful history is hidden behind her rendition of a Russian fairy tale told to the sisters in childhood.
Life’s a Beach by Claire Cook (2007)
Dreaming of becoming an artist while living above her parents' garage, forty-one-year-old Ginger pursues a relationship with a commitment-phobic man and babysits her sister's kids while overseeing her eccentric family's descent into dysfunctional chaos.