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Friday, October 23, 2009

Little Bird of Heaven

Little Bird of Heaven is vintage Joyce Carol Oates, so much so, in fact, that fans of her writing will immediately recognize the novel’s setting and tone. Krista Diehl, the young girl whose father Eddie is suspected of the brutal murder of his mistress, is beginning to realize just how dangerous the world can be for a girl fast approaching sexual maturity. She is both repelled and fascinated by the boys and men with whom she is beginning to come into contact, and what her father is accused of having done leads her to the conclusion that men are dangerous beings. When her father one day emotionally grabs her by the wrist, her first thought is “Always you are astonished. Their size, their height. Their strength. That they could hurt you so easily without meaning to.”

Zoe Kruller was somewhat of a minor celebrity in little Sparta, New York. She was the best thing that her bluegrass band had going for it and any performance of theirs at the local park was guaranteed to attract the attention of a large number of male admirers, men who found it difficult to resist Zoe’s charms. To Krista, however, Zoe was the woman who served her ice cream at the local dairy and always remembered her name. She was Krista’s friend. That she was also her father’s mistress and that he would be accused of her bloody murder would change Krista’s life forever.

Also changed forever by Zoe’s murder would be her son Aaron, a boy whose own father is believed to be the most logical suspect in the murder if Eddie Diehl can prove that he is not the killer. Aaron, already on somewhat of a downward spiral of his own, is as certain that his father is not guilty of the crime as Krista is sure that her own father did not do it. Krista’s determination to find the truth about her father and his relationship with Zoe Kruller leads her to become as obsessed with Aaron Kruller as her father had been obsessed with the boy’s mother.

Oates tells her story from two distinct points-of-view. The first half of the book is filtered through the eyes of Krista Diehl who is really too young to understand everything that she discovers about the murder. This part of the book focuses on the gradual disintegration of the Diehl family which results from everything that happens to them following the murder. Aaron Kruller narrates the second half of the book and, since he is older than Krista, he fills in some of the blanks of Krista’s version of the events before and after his mother’s murder. Inevitably, these two young people have so much in common that their paths cannot help but cross – in a way that neither of them could have imagined and from which each are lucky to come out whole.

Little Bird of Paradise is a novel about self-discovery, pain, loss and how children so often have to pay for the sins of their parents. It is well written, as is almost always the case in a Joyce Carol Oates novel, but it is sometimes not easy to read because one feels, almost from the start, that its two narrators are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their fathers. This sense of impending doom will, however, keep readers turning the pages all the way to the end.

Rated at: 5.0

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