Monday, December 7, 2009
Leo Binhammer is an English instructor at Carmine-Casey Academy, a private high school for girls. Adored and admired, Leo finds great contentment and solace in his profession as the only male teacher in the English department, doting girls following his every move. But Leo's world is disrupted when, one day, a charismatic new teacher named Ted Hughes arrives. This teacher is also a young and attractive man, and although he is friendly and amiable, Leo begins to feel displaced from his high perch at the school when the girls begin to notice and appreciate the attractive newcomer. As Leo learns to adjust to his new circumstances, life continues on at school and complexities and rivalries crop up in not only the students' lives, but in the teachers' as well. Leo and Ted become unlikely friends and Leo begins to unwittingly uncover all the many secrets and intrigues that Ted has kept hidden. Wryly amusing and stylistically deft, Hummingbirds is a cautionary and provocative tale about the overly fragile egos of two very educated men.
I really enjoyed this book, and for the most part, I would have to say that it was extremely well crafted. I was impressed with the author's writing style. It was very fluid and engaging, and in addition, most of the writing was very witty and humorous. The author seemed really adept at creating humorous situations and dialogue that really made the story sparkle and sizzle. Other sections of the book were written a bit like prose: great imagery and succinct word choices that made an impact without being overbearing. The writing struck the perfect balance for me by being neither too sparse nor too wordy, and instead I felt that the author was able to capture the emotions and conundrums of his characters perfectly. The narrative was told through several points of view, but these shifts were handled very solidly and without a lot of confusion, making the multiple narrator strategy very successful.
The story actually had three subplots: two involving the teachers, and one involving the students. It was very amusing to see that the teachers and staff had more drama and intrigue going on than the students did and that they handled their dramas with much more immaturity and snark than a group of teenage girls ever could. Though the story that focused on the students was interesting and involving, I thought that the grist behind the teachers' escapades was much more satisfying to me personally. I think on the whole, the story was integrated very well, with neither side dominating the limelight excessively.
I also thought that all of the characterizations were done very well and were remarkably detailed, though my favorite was the exasperated Binhammer, who sometimes could be a bit churlish when it came to his waning popularity. The author really had the knack for crating well rounded three dimensional characters, and I thought that he was quite brilliant in his creations of the schoolgirls. He managed to capture all the innocence and seductiveness that was teetering on the edge of their femininity remarkably well, and it was not hard at all to take them seriously as both girls and women due to their expert creation.
The only part of the book that I took exception to was the ending. Up until the last section of the book, I was happily reading along and spending most of my mental energy in being impressed by the author's turn of phrase or expert scene creation. I was completely taken by surprise by the turn the book took towards the end, and the main thing that bothered me was not the direction that the action took in the story, but the way the characters reacted to it. I don't want to say too much about the plot twist because I fear I will be giving too much away to those that are going to read the book, but after a certain point, I didn't think that the reactions of the surrounding characters were very realistic, especially in the case of Binhammer. It was almost as if he changed some of the fundamental aspects of his character. After examining it more closely, I also draw the conclusion that perhaps the reader doesn't know the true Binhammer until the ending of the book, and that these revelations about his character had always been there just waiting to be exposed under the right circumstances. Whatever the case may be, I felt that the ending left me a little bewildered, if not taken aback. I don't think that my bewilderment at the conclusion of the book drastically affected my enjoyment of it, and to a certain degree, I think it may have changed or even enriched the complexity of the story, so I can't really say that the ending was a disappointment. Rather I will say that I think it was a little unexpected and made me reshape the terms under which I was reading.
There were a lot of wonderful aspects to this story and I think that if you are the type of person to appreciate witty and satirical writing, this is definitely the book for you. The plot and character creation were first rate, as was the smooth writing. This is not only a great book to lose yourself in, it is a book that will make you think and evaluate the power of interpersonal relationships. A great read.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.