The Birdman’s Daughter
by Cindi Myers
It was almost one decade ago that I got this book, before I was even of legal drinking age. I bought it for five and a half dollars from a supermarket thinking the main character was a mature woman and the plot entailed mature issues, and that maybe by reading it, I myself would be somewhat mature for it. It’s been sitting on my shelf all this time, waiting, and I wasn’t missing out on anything special. In a nutshell, Myers wrote a lukewarm, non-committal story in a perfectly coherent and straightforward (if not generic) writing style about equally lackluster, unoriginal characters. There was no real strife, only inconveniences and discomforts. No real drama, only cumbersome family exchanges. I found myself counting pages to see how long until the end of the chapter, where I could take a break from it.
Our main character, Karen, is a conservative, spineless woman looking after her stroked-out father, Martin, and attempting to reconcile the chasm between them; a woman to which I could hardly relate. Forgive me, but isn’t middle-age kind of late for someone to come to terms with the fact that a parent can only do their best with what they have to work with? Seriously, folks, that’s what this book is about. While children in this world are starved, beaten, molested, and dodging bullets in bad neighborhoods, we’re expected to empathize with Karen, whose daddy was never emotionally available as she grew up.
What bothers me more is that, in this story, nobody actually grows, nobody changes. Karen’s relationship with her mother remained the same, such a minor character that there was no change for her to have either as her ex-husband suffered and deteriorated. Karen gleamed a bit of insight into the inner workings of her deadbeat brother, Del, who remained undeveloped and uninvolved in the fate of his father. The relationship with Karen’s two sons was pointless, other than her realizing she needs to let them grow up and be individuals—I roll my eyes at this woman’s obtuseness. Even the youngest son, Casey, who took more than his share of center stage, remained unaffected—and listening for a minute to some alleged hottie encouraging him to study harder at school hardly constitutes as change when he himself never voiced the resolve to heed this advice, and even if he did I wouldn’t have cared because he was, all in all, a pampered layabout. Then there was Karen’s relationship with her husband, which doesn’t add up for me. Tom enters the scene at the last quarter of the book, after Karen has reconciled hers and Martin’s differences and similarities. Tom storms in like a bull in a china shop, establishes his place in the plot by accusing Karen of being cold and detached just like her father, then storms out. And for all his machismo, Tom apparently harbors a twenty-year-old suspicion that Karen never truly loved him as much as he loved her and that their marriage was merely a matter of convenience for her, all of which is assuaged in one telephone call. Yes, she apologizes to him and he suggests professional counseling, and we all skip merrily into the setting sun. The only redeeming aspect of Tom’s presence is how he put his foot down on Martin’s crippled-ass tantrums, but his sole purpose is to pout that Karen doesn’t give enough of herself to him. I marvel how Myers expects her readers to accept that a woman can invest her whole life in tending to her marriage, his business, their children, as well as her debilitated father, all to the neglect of herself, hobbies, and friends, could be accused of not giving enough, or caring enough, and that such a charge might hold water. Whatever. The single relationship that was the most revolutionary, I mean 360º change, was that between Karen and the dog, Sadie. Go ahead, laugh if you want to, but I’m serious. At first Karen was completely adamant against taking in the dog, but by the end of the book Sadie is her only friend as she sobs and cleaves to the beast, finding solace in those canine sensitivities.
And just like our main character, this whole story failed to develop an emotional bond with even me, the reader. The entire writing was devoted to introspection, no action. Just as a confrontation tilted toward emotional inclinations, the exchange promptly concluded and the scene ended. If Karen and Tom’s situation didn’t convey my point, then take Karen’s confrontation with Martin, when she finally musters up the gall to admit her feelings of neglect to him. He types a little response on the computer, they exchange physical affection, and viola, old wounds are healed. No affinities melted my heart, no insults cut to the quick, no confessions liberated. For this reason, it feels there was never a climax, nothing was ever truly at stake, our protagonist never stood at the precipice of complete disaster or loss, and there was no defining moment of truth. The pace was uneven, there were more pages devoted to fishing trips and evenings at the race track than any character or plot developments; just as quickly as issues came to light, they were resolved, and suddenly everything veered to an end—an easy end, I might add, which felt more to me like a cop-out when the author can simply wipe our hands clean for us. No more mess, no more worries, no huge decisions to be made. It’s over. Just like that. I hope Myers enjoyed the process of writing this book and that she felt some form of release by doing so, for my own singular relief is that I can finally release this book from my collection and be rid of it. There’s a reason The Birdman’s Daughter was only five and a half dollars at the supermarket, and now I know why.