I'm back, with another book about a woman with a hard life. I know—after Ruby, I'd seen enough suffering to last me a good long while, but sometimes the next book in the queue is a 14-day loan from the library, and those who get their books for free can't be choosers. I think that's from the Bible.
(If you're weary of all the super-serious realism going on around here lately, maybe it's time for you to jump into our Summer of Sci-Fi reading list! We'll be discussing Alas Babylon during the first week of June, and the nerdy fun will continue all summer.)
For this book, we're migrating from East Texas to a sheep farm on a British island, where narrator Jake lives alone, with only her dog to keep her company. Plus the sheep, of course. Jake is a big brawny woman, adept at shearing and seemingly capable of fending for herself, but she's plagued by a crippling, amorphous fear. Something or someone has been killing her sheep one by one, leaving the carcasses for Jake to find.
Wyld employs an unusual structure in this novel. She simultaneously tells two stories: one about Jake's current life in Britain, which moves forward in time, and the other about her past in Australia, which moves backwards. Thus we watch Jake fumble her way towards safety and sanity, and in alternating chapters, gain insight into how she became so skittish and untrusting.
I've seen this book described as a literary thriller, but I think that's a mischaracterization. Certainly we're curious to find out why Jake's back is covered with scars and why she's so vague when asked about her family. But Wyld unwraps Jake's secrets slowly and carefully—the book lacks the heart-pounding, palm-sweating acceleration of a thriller. This is more a calculated meditation on one woman's life and how she lost everything, told in whispers and allusions. Don't expect a roller-coaster ride. This book is warm molasses pouring from a jar slowly enough to let sunlight through, its deep blackness flowing into a silken golden ribbon, transforming inscrutable Jake into someone we might understand.
The most appealing aspect of All the Birds, Singing is the nonlinear structure. It saves the book from being a straightforward character study of a strange, damaged woman and brings a measure of mystery to Jake's story. If you're in the mood for a quiet, subtle excursion into a complex woman's psyche, this is the book for you.