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Winter Birds by Jamie Langston Turner

Winter Birds by Jamie Langston Turner is one of those books that I had a couple of false starts on before I actually read it through to the end.  (I find myself doing that fairly often, actually.)  I picked it up again since it is on my TBR list for the year, so it one of my Big Book Push books for the month.  I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by her so far (reviews here and here), so I was confident this book wouldn’t disappoint.  Well, it didn’t, not in the least.  However, it took me a long, long while to “get over” the fact that this book is written from the point of view of a very melancholy and negative old woman.  Although I’m not an old woman, I am rather melancholy and have to fight (really hard!) sometimes to not see the world as glass-half-empty, so it was hard for me to add insult to injury (at least in my mind) by reading her very dismal take on life. 

This book is similar to the other two of Turner’s that I have read in that it is about a marriage that has fallen apart, at least in the ways that matter most.  Unlike the others, though, this one is about a marriage that is physically dead; that is, one-half of the marriage has physically died, so there is no hope for reconciliation.  Much about this situation would not do for me to mention here, especially if the curiosity of anyone reading this is piqued enough to cause him or her to read it, so I am going to borrow the summary from the back of the book and copy it word-for-word here:

Plain and dutiful, Sophia Hess has lived most of her life without ever knowing genuine love.  Her professor husband had married her for the convenience of having a typist for his scholarly papers.  The discovery of a dark secret opens her eyes to the truth about her marriage and her husband.

Eventually nephew Patrick and his wife, Rachel, take Sophia into their home, and she observes from a careful distance their earnest faith and the simple gifts of kindness they generously bestow upon her and others–this is spite of unthinkable tragedy they’ve suffered.  Dare she unlock the door behind which she stalwartly conceals her broken heart?

Also like all of Turner’s other books that I’ve read, Winter Birds is rife with literary references and allusions.  Sophia’s husband was a Shakespearean scholar and professor, and as his typist, Sophia became quite well-versed in the works of the Bard herself.   Reading a book by Turner is very much like getting into the mind of someone who loves literature, so I would venture to guess that anyone who loves literature would also like her books.

Sophia Hess is a keen observer (and critic) of life.  Every single thing she experiences is held up and examined, almost to the point of absurdity at times.  As I mentioned before, I found this a little maddening, but familiar.   This is Sophia’s take on her current place in life:

When one is eighty years old, as I am, the handling of time is her greatest challenge.  There is no place to rest comfortably.  The present is an empty waiting room.  The past is a narrow corridor, along which doors open into examining rooms too brightly lit, full of frightening instruments to inflict pain.  The future is a black closet at the end of the corridor.  No one knows what is inside this dark cubicle.  The possibility of nothingness is a terror.  If present, past, and future seem out of order in this analogy, it is no wonder.  There is no tidy sequence of time when one is eighty and waiting to die.  (96)

Uplifting, huh?  🙂  Sophia does undergo a change by the end of the story, and although it is by no means dramatic, it is, well, hopeful.  I suppose that’s the bottom line in Turner’s books–hope.  There is always hope.

Visit the author’s website here or Semicolon’s review of Winter Birds here.


This is the first book I’ve finished for my Big Book Push, but there’s still plenty of time for you to join me!  Read all about it here.


5 Responses

  1. “Maddening but familiar.” I know what you mean… Narrators that remind me of myself are hardest to deal with.

    I haven’t read anything by this author, but this sounds good, and quite thought-provoking.

  2. Oh, thank you for reviewing this, Amy! My mom has given me six of Turner’s novels (I think she’s up to seven now, right?), but I haven’t read this one yet. Actually, I forgot about it, but there it sat, waiting patiently on the shelf.

    There’s something about her characters that make me feel like I’m home. I can’t wait to “go home” again … 🙂

  3. There is always hope. However, I can see why this book took you a few tries. I’m not sure I would have made it, although it is interested to hear your perspective on it!

  4. This sounds rather good!

  5. […] Had To)6. Lazygal (Fallen)7. Lazygal (The School of Fear)8. Lazygal (Freaks and Revelations)9. Amy @ Hope Is the Word (Winter Birds)10. Amy @ Hope Is the Word (Tumtum and Nutmeg)11. Reading to Know (The Silent Gift)12. Reading to […]

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