THE SOUND OF BIRDS by Joshua Lerman


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A contemporary debut novel about a woman’s journey through mental illness.

As the book opens, Mimi Rizner finds herself in a psychiatric hospital. Unhappy to be locked up in the institution, she begins to reflect back on her life. Her earliest memories are of traveling around the country with her nomadic hippie parents. The narrative jumps around in time as Mimi goes back and forth between the present day, her teen years in San Francisco, and later on, her living with a man named Donny in Richmond. She believes her mental illness was caused by a ghost who entered her body while she was at the Woodstock music festival with her parents, and she hints at and later reveals details about the fact that it was an act of violence on her part that landed her in the psychiatric hospital. As she struggles to control the ghost in her, she has angry, sometimes violent outbursts at the hospital, a sign to the staff that she is not ready to be released. Mimi is a sympathetic first-person narrator even if readers will sometimes cringe at or be upset with her actions. Throughout her life, she has found release in painting, and this depiction of her as a tortured, troubled artist who sees things differently and feels things more deeply helps to make this sometimes-difficult character easier to appreciate. Despite a lack of action, the story moves briskly along, aided by jumps back and forth in time and curiosity about Mimi’s reputation for violence and her teenage romance. The anticlimatic ending offers a simple, satisfying conclusion to her journey. In some of her narration, Mimi speaks in a plain, colloquial style that isn’t always grammatically correct: “She always seems like she isn’t fully there and talks sorta breathy and moaning, like everything is stupid.” At other times, though, she sounds more introspective and educated, as when she tries to understand the circumstances that have led her to the psychiatric hospital: “The whole thing just feels like a slow descent, punctuated with moments of tumbling sharply and deeply into what I can only call hell.” Perhaps the uneven tone is meant to reflect her own chaotic mental state.

A tragic but ultimately uplifting tale of one woman battling personal demons.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0615977188
Page count: 230pp
Publisher: Zuriel Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
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