A pill-popping anesthesiologist and bird-watcher is forced to confront his past when his estranged mother dies.
Adrian Mandrick seems to live a perfect life: He has a beautiful wife, Stella, two bright young children, a well-paying job, and the distinction of possessing the third-longest bird-watching “life-list” in North America. That is, he’s seen more unique species of birds in North America than all but two people…and one of them just died, so the No. 2 spot is closer than ever. But Adrian is also addicted to prescription drugs and has kept his past a secret from everyone, including Stella and his closest friends. When he was a child, his mother ran away from his father with him and his brother, and when his father found them a year later, he informed Adrian that his mother had molested him when he was too young to remember. Adrian is now estranged from both of his parents, and when his mother suddenly tries to get back in touch, he ignores her calls. But her reappearance nevertheless sends him into a downward spiral that takes him from adultery to illness to the obsessive pursuit of the supposedly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker. White, who has an MFA in dramatic writing from NYU and teaches creative writing at DePauw University, makes her debut with this frustrating novel. Adrian’s cavalier disregard for his advantages in life makes it hard to sympathize with him, particularly since White’s treatment of his abuse is superficial and unconvincing. Stella is also reduced to a stereotype of an unhappy wife. The medical and ornithological components of the novel are deeply researched, and Adrian’s love of birds is its most compelling feature. But White hints at themes connected to his passion that are never fully explored, including climate change and Adrian’s Native American heritage. Ultimately, the novel feels more like a collection of ideas than a finished product.
An unsatisfying character study of a middle-aged man in crisis that fails to distinguish itself from others of its type.