The Bird Skinner

Alice Greenway (White Ghost Girls) approaches the familiar themes of war and loss with a fresh perspective in The Bird Skinner. Jim Carroway is a curmudgeonly, wheelchair-bound World War II veteran ensconced in his boyhood summer home on the Maine coast intending to live out his days in solitude. But his plans go awry when a Solomon Island native who spied on the Japanese with Jim and joined him in tracking and preserving birds sends his daughter, the beautiful and brilliant Cadillac, to stay with him the summer before she enrolls at Yale.

Set in 1973, the novel slips smoothly back and forth in time to reveal Jim's life story, from his privileged but emotionally pained childhood to his Pacific Island service, the postwar loss of his beloved wife and his career as a scientist. Lovely sketches of birds, rich in ornithological detail, underscore Jim's true love and talent, countered by the revelations of a disgruntled biographer assigned to profile Jim for a museum magazine piece.

Though he may seem unlikable at first, the truth about Jim slowly reveals his generosity, the funds he sent for Cadillac's education, the wartime rescue of a friend. Cadillac's warmth thaws him around the edges and captivates everyone else.

Greenway skillfully veers between lush prose and sentence fragments mimicking scientific labels--a voice at once abrupt and richly complex, much like Jim Carroway himself. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

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