One morning I began reading Byrd, Kim Church's novel about the diaphanously sensitive and book smart Addie Lockwood coming of age in the 60s and 70s. Addie matures into her true, imperfect self in the 21st century South, replete with hard choices and real people. I stopped for meals and a walk with my husband but otherwise didn't put "Byrd" down until I finished reading it that night.
Byrd is a beautiful book. Usually I'm so immersed in a good story and real characters that I don't think consciously about craft until I reread or talk through a book with someone else. But this one: whew! It kept me hungry for what happened next and eager to know more about each character. Simultaneously, the book stopped me in my tracks with its pitch-perfect essence-capturing turns of phrase, and broader themes. I'm rereading it now to highlight those, out of sheer enjoyment. That is not something I do often but this book warrants a reread.
WIthout revealing any plot twists, suffice it to say that within the first three paragraphs the author captures the essence of an LA visit and possibly of Addie's attraction to her musician lover, Roland Rhodes, by way of a four-word description of the roof of his apartment, concise as poetry: "All grit and sparkle." A young Addie's mother watches her husband butter his toast "...like it's his dying act. Addie knows what she's thinking: this is the last time today they will see him sober." The bookstore clerk Addie hires to help run her used bookstore explains to the officer investigating a break-in, "It's a used bookstore. Half our customers could pass as thieves." One morning mumbling to herself in search of the right pair of socks, Addie's partner asks "are you praying to your socks?" "Sorry," she tells William. "Go back to sleep." "You never know," he says. "God might be socks." What is it about all of these characters that strikes a chord?
The timeframe, North Carolina setting and some character traits feel familiar as an old #2 pencil. The writing is observant and detailed. Just when it gets almost too dear and close-up, there's a true-to-life broad "F-you!" twist of fate or a laugh-out-loud line of dialogue thrown in to balance the effect, like salt on caramel. The gritty, dark humor make the story bearable, the characters touchable.
I am already envisioning the film a director like Nicole Holofcener could make from this book. I'm in awe of what Church captured in words on paper. And this is her first novel! Byrd is worth celebrating. I'm going to keep rereading.