Church's 'Byrd' Is Short, Intricate, and Beautiful

Kim Church's debut novel Byrd (Dzanc) is the sort of book you'd expect from a novelist who already has a few books under her belt. The novel is short, but so intricate, thought out, and complete that upon finishing you want to flip back to the beginning and start all over again. It's a wonderful first novel from a woman with a lot of talent.

Byrd follows Addie Lockwood and Roland Rhodes, who grow up in the 1970s in the same small North Carolina town. As teenagers, the two forge a strange yet intimate friendship as they try to navigate their very separate lives. Roland, who loves music above all else, has an overbearing mother who doesn't approve of his ambitions, while bookworm Addie has an alcoholic father to contend with. The two drift apart even before graduation, but meet again in their 30s, disillusioned yet nostalgic.

During this brief, unexpected reunion, Addie gets pregnant. Not someone who has ever wanted to be a mother, Addie gives birth to a son she names Byrd and gives him up for adoption without telling Roland.

The story is told through Addie's letters to Byrd, and also through brief vignettes that zoom in and out on Addie, Roland, and the various people in their lives. In this way, Church gives herself so much freedom in narrative perspective, sometimes keeping her narration close to her characters' own thoughts, sometimes staying more aloof. Each vignette is distinct and unique, even as they all interact with and build off of each other, and this gives the reader a sense of depth and variety that nevertheless remains as clean as the simple yet evocative prose.

That such a slim book is able to span decades and focus on so many characters is a testament to the writing. Church is able to convey so much with her short sentences, from the very first — "This is how I told your father" — to the very last. She is able to make statements which both serve the plot and hint at something deeper, like, "Sometimes it takes a new person to call you by your true name." And all of her sentences are economical, yet each one also feels as though it is hinting at something deeper.

Byrd is the story of an interconnected, oftentimes blood-related, group of people whose lives are grouped together here because of a baby most of them don't even know exists. It's a deeply moving story of family, of love and disappointments, and of the confusing simplicity of life.

Photo by Anthony Ulinski