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AN ORNITHOLOGIST’S GUIDE TO LIFE by Ann Hood

AN ORNITHOLOGIST’S GUIDE TO LIFE

Stories

By Ann Hood

Pub Date: July 19th, 2004
ISBN: 0-393-05900-6
Publisher: Norton

Debut collection of 11 humorous, heartfelt stories by novelist Hood (Ruby, 1998, etc.), with characters who find small, determined ways to shock the bourgeoisie in and around Providence.

The opener details a nutty affair between a 40-ish, teetering-on-the-wagon divorcée and the reverend who “saves” her. “Total Cave Darkness,” which chronicles the pair’s summer road trip across the country, brings into play all of Hood's marvelous skills: her quirky characterization, stylistic intelligence, and adroit timing combine to produce an ending that the reader feels in the gut. Elsewhere, while her people always come brilliantly to life, the author often spoils her delirious effects by forcing a pat conclusion. “The Rightness of Things,” for example, pursues the deepening of an acquaintance between two young mothers, one married and one divorced, but ultimately disappoints when they fall out over conflicting ideas of sexual political correctness. “New People” has a similarly strained twist as it depicts the hot summer affair between middle-aged Marjorie, a longtime resident in the neighborhood, and her parvenu yard-boy. “Inside Gorbachev’s Head” pursues another cross-generational romance, between Brown student Elliot and his mother’s friend Georgia, while also tracing a bizarre network of relationships and adoptions. “Joelle’s Mother,” told in the first-person plural, revisits the painful prehistory of a family of sisters through the presence of their father’s previous wife’s daughter. Men don’t necessarily behave well in these stories, particularly not fathers, who frequently desert or cheat on their wives (pregnant or otherwise), as in “After Zane.” Hood strikes a more elegiac tone in “The Language of Sorrow,” which shows a 78-year-old woman’s memories of her dead son being revived by her visiting grandson’s similarly self-destructive behavior, and in the title story, a lovely description of an 11-year-old girl watching the behavior of birds and adults as she comes of age in 1974 in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

A strong, fine collection overall, if not consistently stellar. (Many of these pieces first appeared in The Paris Review, Glimmer Train, etc.)