Bird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline (William Morrow)
Full and proper character development appears to be becoming a lost art in fiction, but author Christina Baker Kline does her bit to revive the art in the intriguing novel Bird in Hand. This is a fine story, extremely well told, of four people, partners in two marriages and very good friends. We get to know all four characters and hear their stories – from their own perspectives – in this well-constructed tale.
The narrative begins with Alison whose life seems to be virtually perfect until two things happen. First, she becomes involved in a deadly accident while driving under the influence and the ramifications of this threaten to tear her world apart. Second is something that she’s completely unaware of, which is that her husband is having an affair with someone she considered a friend. Thus, her world changes overnight: “For Alison, now, the world was a different place, and yet it was strangely the same. She was present and not present in her own life.”
Kline writes with the same cool, suburban angst filled tone as Richard Ford (Independence Day, The Sportswriter). There’s a question that is asked in Ford’s writing and in a Talking Heads song: How did I get here? “She walked around the silent house and looked at the framed photographs that lined the mantelpiece and cluttered the bookshelves, wondering, Is this really my life? This collage of frozen moments, frozen in time.”
In Bird in Hand, we also meet Charlie, Alison’s steady if unfaithful husband; Claire, the newly published author and friend of Alison’s; and Ben, Claire’s successful if somewhat dull and introverted husband. It’s rare to find a work in which all four characters are so well fleshed out and, yes, real. Here’s an example, in how Alison describes Charlie: “…as they started talking she realized that there was… something in his character that she couldn’t pin down. He wasn’t cocky, and his humor was gentle. He had a mild confidence, a lack of self-consciousness, an ironic take on the world that wasn’t caustic or bitter. Despite his social ease, he had a solitary air.”
At one point, Charlie describes Claire in words that could apply to the author’s style in writing this novel. “She could be formal one moment and irreverent, even crude, the next.”
To be continued… (the first of two parts)