In this brief, fiercely erotic novel, a woman who appears enveloped in conventional domesticity clings to memories of the dangerously bohemian life she shared with her former lover.
The opening scene of graphic sadomasochistic sex with Mickey, her former lover, that Bird is dreaming, or perhaps remembering, is interrupted by a ringing phone that wakes her in the present. Rapturous if sometimes-troubling memories of Mickey continue to slam-dance into her daily routine. As the day unfolds, Bird gets her boy off to school, nurses the baby, gives breakfast to her husband—for whom she feels mildly irritated affection—and attempts desultory housekeeping. All the while, in nonlinear fits and starts, she relives her affair with Mickey: the unheated apartment in pre-gentrified Brooklyn; the “junk” they snorted; their violent sex; Mickey’s fall down an elevator shaft. Neither Bird’s pregnancy nor Mickey’s marriage proposal came to fruition. After taking a haphazard cross-country trip and meeting an even more degraded, desperate couple, Bird and Mickey returned to New York and broke up. While she remains addicted to the idea of Mickey and the squalid passion he offered, she is ambivalent. She loves her little boy and infant daughter with fierce maternal protectiveness. Although Bird enjoys losing herself in reveries of Mickey, she tells herself she doesn’t want her son to be like him or her daughter to love a boy like him too long. Given that Bird recently cracked a pelvis in childbirth, readers may wonder if the novel is actually a literary riff on postpartum depression. Holland (Swim for the Little One First, 2012, etc.) gives Bird’s past with Mickey a visceral immediacy but keeps her present life in New England abstract and slightly out of focus.
An admirable tour de force of imagery and linguistic pyrotechnics, but the endless talk about passion eventually pours cold water over the initial fiery energy, turning a novel about heightened emotions into a trudge.