A Review of Adam Novy’s Avian Gospels
by Kirsten Alene
I picked this book up because of the cover. It’s the size and shape of a pocket prayer book or a military bible. It has this textured red cover with gold embossed title surrounded by tiny flying birds, and gilded pages with a little red cloth bookmark sewn in. It’s difficult to ignore, it’s a fairly attractive book but it was almost a month of picking it up every time we went to the bookstore before I actually purchased it. In two slim volumes, Avian Gospels (Short Flight/Long Drive 2010) will run you a total of thirty dollars.
To be honest, I didn’t expect very much from it when I finally started to read it. The writing was spare and passive, with a distant narrator who occasionally imposed on the text with a seemingly unrelated collective second person statement. In addition, the first volume of the book was spotted by typos and errors in every chapter.
But by the third chapter I had realized that this was one of the boldest, most fantastic universes I’d ever seen. The writing’s spareness lent itself perfectly to vocalizing the complex cast of characters and weaving an image of a city through emotion rather than description.
The story takes place in a city divided into two distinct classes, the ambiguous “us” and the Gypsies, most of whom are refugees from Norway. The “us,” members of a sort of suburban middle class, are led by the most prominent family in the city, the Giggs. The Giggs’ mother is slowly losing her mind after the death of their oldest son, their younger son takes clarinet lessons and fails to live up to his brother’s memory and their daughter runs a soup kitchen for the poor Gypsies. But the city has been overtaken by birds. Tropical birds, huge birds of prey and zillions of songbirds cover every surface of the city like a pestilence, leaving thick carpets of shit over streets, buildings, and lawns every time they circle up into the sky. The only person who has any power over the birds is a poor Swede named Zvominir whose son Morgan, as the story begins, is just beginning to develop his own power of banishing and summoning the birds.
Morgan quickly becomes the unintentional rallying point for the Gypsies, who declare war on the city and the “RedBlacks,” soldiers of Judge Giggs.
I am always surprised and amazed by literature, but I haven’t become so emotionally attached to a world, and so sorry to see the end of the story in a long while.
Adam Novy managed to create the perfect amalgam of 1980s American pop culture, the French Revolution and an immigrant city at the turn of the century.
You can read an excerpt and some reviews from Avian Gospels here.