On the Glossless Bookshelf: The Lovebird by Natalie Brown

The Lovebird by Natalie Brown is one book that should be given a second and third read-over, if only to linger on a few lush lines.

I've been meaning to write a review of The Lovebird by Natalie Brown all summer.  Meaning to tell you how it's about a Southern California-based animal lover named Margie, whose compassion for helpless creatures gets her in trouble with the law and forces her to go in to hiding in rural Montana.

I've been meaning to tell you how this book contains a somewhat credible plot and cast of characters, but whose real strengths are in its finer details, how it describes our sense of smell in connection to memory or suggests how our emotionally complex lives can lead us to anthropomorphize, all the while hinting at how hard it is to find our place amongst our own species.   

I've also been meaning to photograph this book outdoors in some green space that would compliment its ornate cover.  Instead, I took a shot of it next to my cat Tuesday, who didn't seem all too eager to endorse it, or endorse reading in general.  Luckily, I'm not as tough a critic as she is.

So I will say that this is definitely my favourite book of the season.  Natalie Brown's debut novel has lines in it that read as if they were overgrown. That is to say, I found myself getting tangled up in them in the best possible kind of way.  Reading one or two lines over just for the pleasure of how they sound.  For me, this book was less about the progression of the actual story and more about the inner emotional landscape of a character whose left ovary twinges every time she encounters a helpless animal (or human).  Someone who, at the root of it all, is in search of her own place in the world.

Margie is an impressionable (and lonely) young student who falls for her older, widowed Latin teacher Simon, who introduces her to project H.E.A.R.T., a hodgepodge student group of animal activists that he heads.  When their love affair ends, Margie is left grieving but even more determined to fight for the cause, and take up where Simon left off,  leading her to get into trouble with the law and have to go into hiding on a rural reserve.  There she will have little contact with her activist friends, her ex-lover, or her sad-sack father, but in turn will learn more about herself then she ever imagined.

Here's one of those excerpts from the book that I simply had to reread a few times to savor, in which the main character is stopping by the house of a flirtatious gelato server, Jack Dolce, who is somewhat against her activist lifestyle:

    His warm neck left a salt residue on my lips.  He smelled of gardenias, luscious tropical flowers with a thick, desirous scent.  He rode his red bicycle to the waterfront. When he returned, the front basket was filled with oysters. "Let's steam these!" he cried.  I supposed, staring at the rough ruffles of their shells, that while I certainly would not eat any oysters, I couldn't force the unabashed bon vivant, who really was tattooed with the words "eat, drink, and be merry" to abstain. (The Lovebird by Natalie Brown, pg. 95-96) 

Reading this debut book made me more aware of my own senses.  When I'd pass by the strong scent of flowers, I'd question what they were.  It also gave me a new appreciation for the diverse ways in which people relate to animals, and what they represent in our lives. And not just those that abstain from eating meat, but those who hunt and use every single part of the animal, and the rest of us varied farmer's market strollers or grocery-store junkies.

This book has a little bit of something for almost everyone in it.  Unless, of course, you're a grumpy, illiterate cat named Tuesday.