Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
I love the vocabulary and use of language in this book. It was not an explosive page turner, but it did hold my interest based on the language, as well the themes it introduces.
Boy, Snow, Bird is the story of a woman named Boy, who escapes from her father, a rat catcher, to flee to a small town several hours from the only home she has ever known. There, she meets and marries a widower who has a young daughter named Snow. When Boy gives birth to a daughter of her own, whom she names Bird, her life is changed forever.
Some of my favourite quotes contain beautiful descriptive scenes, and others are just so real and matter of fact. Here is a sampling:
“If you are about to fall on the ground like a frail creature in need of smelling salts, you owe it to yourself to at least say something fantastically vicious beforehand, but all I did was make him laugh … He cut a slice of pear. The longest, thinnest shaving, near transparency, and he fed it to me, bit by sweet grainy bit, his thumb brushing tiny weary circles across my cheek. I cut the next piece for him, and I held the knife until he’d eaten all the fruit off the tip of the blade. He licked the juice away afterward, and I kissed his mouth, because of the way he’d drank down that one drop.”
“Becoming Mrs. Whitman was a quiet affair that I didn’t have to diet for.”
“The optician has my vision down as 20/15 in both eyes and says that if I keep eating my greens and don’t try to read by a flashlight, I can be an airplane pilot if I want; fly for real like every bird should.”
“Dad and Louie had decided it was perfect weather to grab a baseball glove and go play catch in the backyard. For everyone else, the weather was right for staying home, and making stupid phone calls.”
“The first coffee of the morning is never, ever ready quickly enough. You die before it’s ready, and then your ghost pours the resurrection potion out of the mocha pot.”
There are a lot of them, because the way the author pulls her words together is thoroughly wonderful.
The other vein of interest this book held for me was in the themes that were explored. Chief among them for me was the exploration on evil. The rat catcher is “evil,” at least Boy thinks so. We are told that he is physically abusive with her, mentally wounding her regularly as well. We are compelled to wonder why the rat catcher is the way he is, why he handles life the way he does.
Then, we come to the “evilness” that Boy seems to possess. We are left to consider how much of the way Boy was treated as a child contributes to the stance she takes on her step daughter. Is the evil stepmother ‘evil’ in her own right, or is she evil because someone mistreated her to such an extreme that she is left damaged and unable to think clearly on the subject of step-motherhood? We know that it probably is inevitable that she would be unable to think about Snow with a healthy perspective when comparing her daughter Bird, to such a beautiful (spoiled, or extremely kind hearted) child. Some have speculated that a postpartum depression was enveloping her life, but as a mother who went through bouts of that with each of my children, I don’t see that possibly working for the 14 or so years that we see the book spanning. I am left believing that Boy is just so damaged from her life before Flax Hill that she feels extremely threatened and jealous of Snow just because the child is so oblivious to the feelings people have for her (be it kindness or criticism).
This book is constructed to make us think about our opinions on this and many other subjects (racism, sexual orientation, family dynamics nature v. nurture, and so on), our perspectives on life and the truths that we hold close to our hearts. The more I think about Boy, Snow, Bird the richer I see that it is. Helen Oyeyemi has done a masterful job at weaving together beautiful, engaging language into a piece of work with such depth of purpose and moral implications for every reader.