“Well I’ve only been twice,” Margret answered, realizing her mouth wasn’t working so well. “I mean, the one about Oedip … Oedipus.”
The wine was warping her consonants.
“Night Journey,” he prompted.
“Is that the one? It was like an Assyrian,” she said slowly, “bas-relief. Those little palms and things in profile.”
Her face was hot. Why did he keep looking at her?
“What I want to know,” Emily said, pointing a pretty finger at Azam, “is why Graham men are always in such skimpy costumes? I mean, really, Azam, it’s jockstraps and loincloths. Do you guys ever, among yourselves, admit she was sexist?”
“Noooo.” He smiled lazily. “She just liked to see men’s bodies. You know the famous line?” He squared his shoulders. “Walk like you carry the seed.”
“What seed?” Nan called from the far end.
“Sperm,” Fred said.
“What are you talking about?” Ollie demanded.
“Martha Graham,” Emily, Fred, and Azam said in unison.
Above text from The Bird Catcher, by Laura Jacobs.
Photo from Night Journey (with requisite male dancer in loincloth) by John Deane, taken from here.
I’d really liked dance critic Laura Jacobs’ first novel, Women About Town, so I was really excited for her second one to come out. She writes fiction like she writes about dance (for the New Criterion; she also has a collection of her dance writings): lyrically, beautifully, poetically.
The Bird Catcher is the story of Margret Snow, a young New York artist working as a window-dresser at Saks, and her attempts to overcome the grief caused by her husband’s untimely death. She and her late husband, Charles, a Columbia professor several years her elder, had loved to bird-watch together in Cape May, New Jersey. So one of the ways she salvages his memory and pulls herself back into life is to go down to lower Manhattan and collect various birds who, during their migration, were felled by the glass skyscrapers. She retrieves their bodies and performs taxidermy on them — and, really, I never knew how poetic this practice could be, how artistic! And this project of hers eventually figures, rather dangerously, into her job.
There are lighter moments in the novel as well, like the scene above, where she’s at a dinner party and meets this young, sexy Martha Graham dancer named, fittingly, Azam, who ends up figuring rather prominently into things as well.
It’s a really beautiful book. One of those you want to read slowly and really savor the language. And she has a way of making you really feel for her characters. It’s also rather educational. I didn’t know much about different bird species and their migration patterns, or the variety of bird-life passing through New York City and how dangerous those skyscrapers can be to them.
Anyway, Emdashes currently has a contest on, through which you can win a free copy of the book. You have to enter by this Friday. You can do that if you’re on Twitter by responding to @emdashes and giving the name of your favorite bird. If you don’t tweet, then visit James Wolcott’s blog for more details.