Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Bird Menders

By Marian Van Eyk McCain
$5.99 at www.smashwords.com

More than “chick lit,” this first-time novel by a retired psychotherapist is the story of a woman who gave up her newborn daughter for adoption, then is reunited with her three decades later.

Along with all the attendant joy and awkwardness – though perhaps not the anger – you would imagine, both the mother and her late-20s daughter have secrets they don’t want to share with the other. Marsha is a successful mystery writer who, on a working vacation to Italy, begins writing scenes involving her idealized adult daughter. In truth, she knows nothing about her, but she’s reached that time in her life when she would give anything to meet the girl who was the product of a brief fling with a charming Italian lover.

Benny, the daughter, has had a seemingly happy childhood scarred by events nearly no one else knows about. Although she initiates the reunion, her standoffishness with her biological mother cannot help but hurt Marsha, who nonetheless tries to be content merely with Benny’s presence.

The novel’s setting in an Italian village (interspersed with trips to Marsha’s London home and flashbacks to Benny’s childhood in Australia) is well drawn and makes the reader envy the characters who spend their summers attending a language school there. The book’s title is a literal representation of one of Benny’s activities and a metaphorical description of what’s going on with the women and their supportive friends.

Although this is Marian Van Eyk McCain’s first novel, she has written several non-fiction books, which undoubtedly enabled her to develop the tools of an author. The book’s structure is not simple, with the voice alternating among the women and their male friend Frank and the time and location following the speaker. But McCain pulls it off to create an interesting character study and a compelling story of a different kind of love.

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