By Lynn Willoughby
The Afterlife of Birds – Elizabeth Philips
This is a debut novel by a Canadian author. It is a story of ordinary people living their ordinary lives and how we all connect It reminds me a lot of Elizabeth Hay’s writing – see Late Nights on Air, or Alone in the Classroom, or Carol Shields books – The Stone Diaries or Happenstance.
The protagonist is Henry, a young man working in a garage at a job he doesn’t particularly like. His passion is rebuilding the skeletons of birds. He is self-taught and while some people are totally creeped out by his hobby, like his girlfriend Amy, other people can see the beauty Henry sees.
When Henry’s brother Dan goes off the radar, Henry begins to overcome his shyness. He works at odd jobs for his neighbour – an 80 year old Russian woman. She loves having Henry over for tea and to tell him her stories. Henry becomes more receptive and a friendship develops.
Another friendship in an unexpected guise develops between Henry and Marcie, a young, pregnant woman who used to work for Henry’s mother in her greenhouse. Henry has known Marcie all his life, but now she is Henry’s friend and she insists that Henry live HIS life and not feel responsible for everyone he knows. With the help of these two women we see Henry grow from a nerdy kid with a strange hobby, who depends solely on his brother for friendship, to a caring and thoughtful individual who is true to himself.
There is not a lot of action in this book. However, the writing is wonderful and Philips’ descriptions of prairie sunsets is something we can all relate to and admire. And as Henry makes his own way around the Tyrell Museum in Drumheller, I was walking with him.
If you are ready for an enjoyable, peaceful read with great characterization, this is the book for you.