WINTER BIRDS by Jim Grimsley


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Although playwright Grimsley graces it with an effective device - an adult narrator recounts the story to the young protagonist in the second person - this emotional debut staggers under the weight of preciousness. There is no lack of action, as Danny and his siblings and their mother, Ellen, try to stay out of the way of their raging father, Bobjay. Danny is a hemophiliac (his mother tells him he has "special blood" and therefore needs a lot of care). The immediacy won by the second-person voice and the suspense provided by the spectacle of hemophiliacs (one of Danny's brothers also is afflicted) constantly in harm's way can't make up for the thin story, which basically consists of the family drifting from house to house as the domestic violence continues. Danny and his sister, Amy Kay, name each house: "The Circle House," for example, with its ring of rooms, announces foreboding and a condition from which there is no exit. Bobjay, who lost an arm in a farming accident, is likely to be set off by the frustration of not being able to work, by the medical bills for his hemophiliac sons, and by jealousy. Feeling that one landlord's willingness to repair the house has more to do with Ellen than with Sheetrock or plumbing, Bobjay gets drunk and goes on a rampage. A major flaw in this work is that the cycles of violence are predictable and indistinguishable, and consequently the novel becomes just another pale addition to the growing Southern cult of Faulkner wannabes. Aside from Bobjay's fling in the truck with Ellen's sister, Grimsley gives few glimpses into Ellen's rationale for staying in this marriage or into her family history. Grimsley succeeds in re-creating Danny's claustrophobia, but the family's isolation makes it difficult to determine when the story takes place. Authentically brutal but not much more.
Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1994
ISBN: 1565120752
Page count: 221pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1994


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