IF BIRDS ARE FREE by Evelyn Wilde Mayerson


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A touching, lightly sentimental and shrewd portrait of a Philadelphia bag lady: Hester, a chronic schizophrenic and blue-ribbon hallucinator, whose shreds of notions and words link and light up like a city at night. Institutionalized for 20 years and now officially placed in a ""shelter"" for mental patients (a sump of sleaze, dirt, and exploitation), Hester is the object of wen-meaning attempts at rescue, along with fascination and fear. But she also finds camaraderie among those whose flight patterns through the city streets intersect with hers: two kind black men who make trash into dog houses; the ""Rolex man,"" king of the hot watches; Choosy the numbers man; Augie, blind and generally mean; Doc, who runs the peep show; gorgeous Honeydew, headed for porn-pic stardom; and little Collier, uneasy junior in a black gang of toughs, whom Hester, once a teacher, miraculously and erratically teaches to read. And then, when crisis strikes, Hester benefits from the attentions of aggressively liberated and liberal lawyer Darby Statler (and her unlikely lover--nice plain-guy cop Jack Mulhenny). First Darby wins at a commital hearing initiated by Hester's flabby son (who was taken away from her as a baby); then, when Hester succumbs to frostbite after sitting all night by the corpse of another shelter expendable, Darby saves her feet from amputation. And finally Hester is legally free, but she remains at the mercy of chance and evil in an environment where she has no place. . . . Mayerson does a convincing job here with Hester's feral wariness and unceasing stress; even better are the flicks and spits of the bag lady's capricious consciousness: ""You can't be chaste when you're married. They get after you in the night and spoil a whole day's work."" So, though the generally comfortable street community and the tough-femme/solid-cop romance here may seem awfully familiar, this is a poignant, acute, often delightful and certainly timely statement about the plight of those whom society seems determined to forget.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1980
Publisher: Lippincott & Crowell