Birds of a Feather
by Daphne Birkmyer
Genre: Literary Fiction
Print Length: 382 pages
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Reviewed by Samantha Hui
A beautiful exploration of how the people we accept into our lives can change how we view the world—for better or for worse
Birds of a Feather is the first novel in Daphne Birkmyer’s Comfrey, Wyoming series. This contemporary novel has much to do with trauma, friendship, and identity. Readers are bound to encounter a perspective similar to their own with its use of multiple perspectives, but they’ll likely gravitate most toward Heidi, the book’s main character, and wish for a person equally as charming and nurturing in their lives.
“Caring for Peter had awoken a vigilance within her and now all life demanded her attention in its balancing act.”
After the death of her infant child due to cystic fibrosis, Heidi Vogel’s relationship with her husband strains. In searching for new meaning in life after the dissolution of her marriage, Heidi finds herself going from running a high-end New York restaurant to julienning carrots in a soup kitchen in Riverton, Wyoming. She meets an assortment of odd characters on her journey, but the pregnant Nara Crow makes the biggest impact on Heidi’s heart.
Nara is closed off and hard to read, but she has an infectious determination. Heidi can’t help but bring Nara and eventually Nara’s twin children into her life. Heidi remains in a holding pattern when Nara and her two children disappear for five years until their return. Their return sparks a string of events that eventually leads Heidi and the two children, Amadeus and Marcela, to the town of Comfrey, Wyoming.
“Some things were too painful to push to the surface, so you avoid talking about them, leaving other people a minefield to navigate.”
The tone of the novel is deeply conversational. We learn about the characters through the stories they tell each other rather than through much exposition. Readers will feel as if they themselves are meeting a string of characters as Heidi navigates her way through Riverton.
The characters feel like people we could encounter in the real world too. They possess idiosyncrasies that feel both peculiar and absolutely integral to the character. The badly scarred man who visits Heidi’s soup kitchen knows the entirety of the poem “The New Colossus;” Nara has a deep fascination with deep sea creatures; Heidi is a German woman with a mini weiner dog and a home that is filled with the color orange.
Though you’ll learn about many characters’ traumas along the way, what resonates most is the humanity the characters possess despite their troubles.
“The doubts and questions that haunted her when she let her guard down crowded the room. What was she doing in a small town in Wyoming when her years of training would make her welcome in the kitchens of fine restaurants everywhere?”
I love how this book nurtures and encourages identity. The characters’ identities serve to enrich the reader’s understanding of them, but they do not swallow the characters whole. We eventually learn that, though Nara gave birth to two boys, when Heidi reunites with the children who are five years old, Marcela identifies as a transgirl. This being the first novel in the Comfrey, Wyoming series, I am excited to see what kind of girl Marcela grows up to be and how Heidi will protect and raise her in a world that has yet to “come to its senses” as Heidi would say.
“Was it safe to carry something irreplaceable in a pocket? Was anything, was anyone ever safe?”
The book can be slow at times, but each moment is in service of building the charming town of Riverton and crafting the peculiarities of the character. I highly recommend this novel to fans of contemporary fiction who long to be more patient with their neighbors and to come to the table with curiosity in their hearts. In our current society, it can almost feel easier to pigeonhole strangers for fear of them hurting us or breaking our hearts, but Birds of a Feather reminds us that the true act of bravery is taking a chance on those who are wounded.
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