Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looking After Pigeon by Maud Carol Markson - 192 pgs

Book CoverLooking After Pigeon tells the tale of a woman named Pigeon, reminiscing about the summer when she was just five and her life was dramatically changed forever. Through the eyes of the young girl we witness the small idiosyncrasies of her family after her father mysteriously abandons them one spring morning. Amid the confusion of Pigeon and her siblings, her mother decides to move the family to the Jersey Shore to live with their uncle Edward. Although Uncle Edward is very affable with the children, he is frequently away from the house, as is their mother who has had to take a job to support them. Because of this the three children are mainly left to their own devices over the summer. Dove, the oldest, decides to take a job at the local diner and quickly gets enmeshed in relationships and flirtations with older men, while the middle child Robin makes the acquaintance of a fortune teller with whom he spends much of his time. This leaves Pigeon alone most of the time to fend for herself in the small beach-side house. As each family member struggles to come to terms with the circumstances of their new lives, they slowly drift further and further from each other and their old lives. A touching and revealing coming of age story, Looking After Pigeon captures the imagination and determination of a little girl to understand the adult world around her.

This book had a lot of different elements working in it, and I felt that some were more successful than others. One of the first things I noticed was that the writing was very fluid and lyrical and that the narrative seemed to flow very smoothly. The writing style felt perfect for the story, because the language was unhurried and polished in a way that seemed to reflect the circumstances. There were no jarring or startling aspects in the way the story was told; instead there was a beautiful feel of economy and deliberateness in the author's choice of word and style.

On the other hand, it did take a bit of effort to believe that the story was told from a five-year-old's point of view, because much of the introspection and dialogue given from that point of view seemed like it came from a much older mentality. In some ways this kept me from really being able to relate to the book because it took me out of the story and kept me wondering how a five-year-old would have been able to think in such a sophisticated manner. For example, during much of the story Pigeon is left alone to take care of herself. Now, I know quite a few five-year-olds and I can't imagine that even one of them would be capable of remaining home alone for even an hour, much less a whole summer. I also used my experience with this age group to try to figure out if Pigeon's thoughts and reactions were in line with other typical five-year-olds, and I have to say that they were not. Much of her reasoning and thought processes were that of a much older child, or even an adult. While the story was told as the recollections of an adult, I did not feel that those recollections could have been accurate because I felt that the actual immaturity and innocence of a five-year-old were not really accurately captured.

I also had some issues with the way that the family interacted. Their mother seemed very unmindful of her children and was somewhat cold towards them emotionally, while the children were extremely disrespectful and snide to her. Though this family was not very close or conscientious of each other, I felt that the way they acted towards one another was a great catalyst for the events that took place in the closing sections of the book. Though it did bother me somewhat, it really worked very well for the story. I also thought that Pigeon's longing and fretting about her father felt very authentic, and I imagine that any child dealing with abandonment by a parent would feel much the same as she did.

One of the things I found really interesting about this book was seeing how each child manifested the loss of their father in a different yet entirely convincing way. Their loss of an integral part of their family had varying consequences for all three of them, and I felt that each was acting out their unmet needs and desires in a way that highlighted character aspects of each of the children individually. Keeping this in mind, I began to see their struggles as a painful processes of grief and change that was shaping them into people that were hopelessley trying to gain a foothold in their lives. I found this aspect of the book to be particualrly moving and resonant for me, and I felt the author was really able to capture those feelings very well.

Though I had some issues with parts of this book, overall I felt that the structure of the story and the writing was done very well. I felt that the author was able to capture the prevailing moods of loss, longing and regret very powerfully in her narrative. I think that the overarching story was one that was very moving and emotional, and that if you are the type of reader who can overlook the minor quibbles of the narrative voice, you might really enjoy this book. It certainly gave me a lot to think about.

TLC Book ToursI read and reviewed this book as part of a TLC Book Tour. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these sites:

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


Maud Carol said...

Thank you for your wonderful review. I am so glad you "got" what I was trying to do with the book. The family dynamics, the play of memory in our lives, and the sense of abandonment are all key to this story. As for the narrative voice-- this is adult Pigeon's memories of that summer with her adult knowledge and sensibilities affecting her memory-- "selective memory, is how I think of it."
I really appreciate all your comments-- you are indeed a careful reader and writer.


Steph said...

I think your review was spot on, and I think we had a similar reaction to this book in the end. It seems like a consistent problem some of us have had is with the voice of Pigeon's narration, but I was especially interested to hear your take since you have so much experience with that age group. One thing I hadn't thought of was how the three children are all dealing with their father's loss in their own way. While I obviously understood that Pigeon's dad leaving was extremely traumatic for her (as it seems the impetus for her later problems), I hadn't stopped to think about how the other children were affected. Looking back, I know see clearly how each of them were clearly searching for something or someone to the hole that their father had left.

Maud Carol said...

They were all definitely looking for someone to "care" for them, including Joan, the mother. I wonder sometimes if we all look for that, each in our own way. Or do we learn to just care for ourselves?


Anonymous said...
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Zibilee said...

You make a good point. I also hadn't considered that the Joan was also looking for something or someone to care for her because it seemed as though she was pretty self contained and self sufficient in the way she dealt with her emotions. Looking back on her decision to follow the quasi-guru does seem to indicate that she was lost as well.

I think that to some degree, we all are looking for someone to help us heal, to fill the void, but some seem to be more successful than others when it comes to limiting that type of behavior and working instead to heal themselves. I think by the time I had reached the end of the book and realized the trajectory that Pigeon's life had taken, it became clear to me that her past had debilitated her in some ways, but by cutting herself off from the pain she had managed to mitigate some of her destructive past.

trish said...

Very insightful review and comments, Zibilee!

Thanks for being on this tour!

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

Ooh, very interesting! Even with the trouble with the 5 year old's POV (I have a 5 yr old now ... he can't even be in a room in our house alone for 10 minutes!).

The relationships sound like they're really well-explored. And I love the names of the characters - unique!

Maud Carol said...


You are so right about Pigeon, and about Joan. You are a very insightful reader.

And Dawn, I hope you will try my book, and then write to me with any comments. As for a five year old spending so much time alone-- Pigeon is unique, and she is left alone whether she wants it or not. And remember this was a different time period-- I would never have left my five year old son alone to manage by himself (I didn't even leave him when he was ten years old!), but I do remember my parents leaving me (and my five siblings) alone all the time. We made meals, we visited with friends, we managed. We didn't feel abandoned-- we just felt it was a part of life.


bermudaonion said...

This sounds interesting even with the issues you had with the book. Great review.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

What a terrific, thorough review. I love that you pointed out all that you liked and what did not work for you as well.

I think I would like to try this one for myself. I think I might enjoy such a story (i'm big on dysfunction family themes).

Maud Carol said...

Bermuda Onion and Diane,

I hope you will both try my book Looking After Pigeon, and then please write me with your own comments. I think that Zibilee brings out what people have liked about the book (and also what they have had problems with) in her review.
As for "dysfunctional families"-- we're probably all dysfunctional in some way. I have tried to give my son the "perfect" family, but I know we have fallen far far short.
Happy reading to you all!


Ana S. said...

I love your reviews! This sounds like one of those quiet, reflective books I tend to really enjoy. On the other hand, I can definitely see how making the voice of a child that young genuine would be hard.

Maud Carol said...


I hope you will try my novel, Looking After Pigeon, and see for yourself if the narrator's voice works for you. And then please let me know what you think.

Happy Reading.


Aarti said...

Fabulous review! I can forgive many things for lyrical writing :-) I have never really read those quiet, fraught with unspoken drama, books. But this might be one to try.

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