"The Wild Birds" by Emily Strelow

By Emily Strelow

Reviewed by Julia

ISBN 9781644282007

"The Wild Birds" by Emily Strelow is a novel which spectacularly mingles the sensations of womanhood and the mythos of the lonely traveller with the biological interconnectivity of the natural world.  Strelow charts the progress of her characters' wandering souls, examining their pathways through forests both invitingly real and painfully metaphorical as they leave empty homes for the comfort of self-made nests.  Yearning for boundless ocean and breaking violently free from tradition, they linger by the road-sides and free-wheel like tumbleweeds in the lush web of existence.
We travel back and forth from the late 1880s on a rocky island off the coast of Northern California, to Oregon ranchland and Arizona wildlands of the 1940's and 90's.  Strelow's collection of misfits navigate their landscapes like wild animals on the periphery of the man-made borders found in cities and domestic life, looking for belonging where nature is neither kind nor cruel, accepted and respected rather than controlled, as things grow and die without fault or prejudice.
Passion in our characters' lives is the rare bird at the wrong time, time a construct of a narrower civilized world and the obedient, inhibited mind. The truth of their hearts' longing remains steadfast in the wild places - the silence of deserts and forests, the millenial persistence of cryptobiotic soil, the overgrown path that leads to a forgotten stream.  Birdsong and the minituae and violence of flora and fauna are a daily presence, of relevance to their observant and interested eyes and ears.
A drifting boy leaves his monied past behind for the welcome emptiness of a desert highway, one young girl binds her chest to hide her sex while another girl expresses it openly, longing for connection.  The trusted friend and intended recipient of her affection years later pines for that experession in the deep midnight of a lonely canyon's arroyo, while an ancient, silver box of unique bird eggs collected with care ties together the story of all characters as one.
While reading "The Wild Birds", I have learned to ride with trust on the back of a blind hawk as she touches down with the sureness of intuitive flight.  I have seen the intelligence of a woman revealed not by the fact of her choice by but the character of her heart, regardless of choice.  As Strelow's characters grow weary of the confines of society, expectations, and industry, we cheer as they chase down the oncoming storm to watch the lightning move in close.  This lovely, raw, intimate and fulfilling novel offers insight into the beauty of surviving the storm, of bearing the scar without inviting or allowing an unending existensial weight in our psyche.  While we strain at the limits of our own human consciousness, birds still gather the world over to migrate great distances.

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