RARE BIRDS by Kathleen Novak


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A lot can happen in 11 days: a woman can fall in love; a new girl can move into town and immediately make two best friends; a long-standing mystery can be investigated and solved; bullies can get their comeuppance; and a man can get sick and, seemingly out of nowhere, die.

All of these events transpire in a tiny, unnamed Minnesota Iron Range mining town, “so far north on the edge of nothing,” where a mix of industrious Italian immigrants and native-born Americans struggle to support themselves, raise children, accommodate illness and aging, and find joy in the routines of everyday life. It’s June 1960, school is out for summer break, and the light-filled days seem endless. Gertrude, for one, an intellectually limited adult, spends her time speedily circling the block on which she lives. But when she spots a man she's never seen before—someone she recognizes as similarly disabled—her heart begins to flutter. Call it love at first glimpse. As Gertrude attempts to learn the stranger’s identity, Betty Larsen, her neighbor, an unwed single mother, focuses her energies on finagling ways to get her lover, Claus Jacobson, to leave his wife and marry her. She alternatively dreams of getting a job and living independently. As Betty envisions these possibilities, she conjures half-baked strategies for bringing them to fruition. Meanwhile, her 6-year-old daughter, Elise, plots ways to ingratiate herself with Katie Fiore and Sue Too, slightly older girls who’ve set out to learn why a nearby house was abruptly abandoned more than a year earlier. Other characters—a shoplifting couple, a disgruntled grocer, a bevy of green-thumbed gardeners, a relentlessly cheerful cosmetics saleswomen, and a bunch of bored wannabe thugs—add color to Novak's (Do Not Find Me, 2016, etc.) quirky, charming town portrait.

A light and loving, if romanticized, reimaging of a bygone era.

Pub Date: June 30th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-57962-498-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2017


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