Looking After Pigeon by Maud Carol Markson
Release date: 2009 / 190 pages
Synopsis (from front cover): One spring day in New York City, five-year-old Pigeon’s father disappears, leaving her to face a new and bewildering life with her mother and older siblings in an uncle’s house on the Jersey shore.
First line: “Memory is an odd thing.”
Review: I’m at a bit of a loss with this review! I did enjoy it –very much — and felt as if I knew Pigeon quite well throughout the novel. I even missed her voice inside my head when I finished… and wondered for days how she was doing, what she was thinking about, what her adulthood would be like… But I had such a sense of vertigo and foreboding throughout much of my reading that I can’t help but begin my review with what troubled me most.
Pigeon, the narrator, is five years old, yet she is left alone much of the time. This seems so unbelievably irresponsible on the part of her mother that I had a hard time finding Joan (the mother) remotely sympathetic. Now, she is not a particularly likeable character to begin with, but I simply can’t imagine a five-year-old fending for herself day after day – even once in New York City!
The novel was told in the first person, but Pigeon’s voice was not that of a five-year-old, so I was relieved when the older Pigeon would occasionally make a brief appearance to remind us that she was now an adult reflecting on a long ago past:
“Unlike other children, I seemed immune to the contagious illnesses that flourished among schools and playgrounds; I was invariably in good health. Instead, I was susceptible to the varying moods of those around me. I picked them up — the highs and lows — as easily as others did the chicken pox or winter colds. I am still that way — with coworkers, friends, lovers. But most of all my family.”
I think I would have enjoyed even more of the older Pigeon’s perspective – but not at the exclusion of the young Pigeon. This novel is quite short and could have been a bit longer, honestly. I would have enjoyed reading more about Pigeon’s siblings — Dove’s future with Stan, Robin’s thoughts throughout that summer. Robin is truly the hero of this novel – caring for his little sister in ways that no one else thinks to do — but Robin is only 8 years old himself!
Beyond feeling unbalanced by the neglect of the children, my other emotion was sadness. Really, beyond “sad” — tragic is more appropriate. I know there must be children left to fend for themselves in the world, beyond the eye of social services… And the effects of this abandonment on Pigeon — who focuses more on her absent father’s abandonment than the daily neglect of her mother — is expressed by an adult reluctance to accept love or intimacy:
“…it seemed to me then that we were often guilty of speaking that way in our family, as if our lives were all so segmented that what was said by one person could not possibly affect anyone else in the room. Like words held within cartoon balloons, only the characters were all from different comic strips, different pages…
Perhaps our mother knew something that I am unwilling to grasp even today — that love, although powerful and consuming, is never given in the right doses. It is either controlling and too binding, relinquinshed begrudgingly as if it were a painful sacrifice, or doled out in such a haphazard fashion that one is left bewildered, lost.”
I must say that I did connect with Pigeon and the novel had a very satisfying narrative pace — quick and engaging. In fact, I connected so much with Pigeon that I wanted to find her and Robin a new family — I knew that their older sister, Dove, would be fine. I guess I figured Robin and Pigeon would be fine, too, but was certainly irritated that they had to find this safety without any help from the significant, shockingly selfish adults in their lives. So, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief a bit and embrace a darling character, drop me a comment and I will choose a lucky winner by Saturday!
Thanks to Trisha and Lisa for asking to me part of this tour (and for the free book!).
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