A Grandmother and her granddaughter unravel deeply hidden family secrets about infidelity and the unexplained death of a young child.
The Bird House: A Novel is an extraordinary book for many reasons, but above all, it is the second novel of Kelly Simmons and done so well, you'd think she'd been writing for years. Her characters are very well developed--in fact, it is difficult not to persevere with any of them as disturbing family secrets are uncovered.
At the very beginning, Ann Biddle makes the astonishing claim that she killed her first born daughter. If this isn't enough, immediately, narrator Ann begins her tale from her own faltering mind due to early onset Alzheimer's. Should a reader trust Ann's words or not? Are her interpretations of reality in sync with what really occurred in her early family life? What actually happened to her firstborn girl?
Within the first pages of The Bird House, Grandma Ann attempts quite successfully to win the love, understanding, and trust of her grandchild, Ellie, an eight-year-old who has asked Grandma to help her complete a class assignment. Students are to retell, in youthful form, their family's history from some novel point of view with pictures, facts, and possibly a well documented fact thrown in for good measure. Ellie spots a birdhouse outside Grandma Ann's window and decides that birdhouse will be her connecting project theme. Why? She has seen birdhouses in old family photograph albums.
As Grandmother Ann and Ellie spend time putting together Ellie's project, it becomes obvious to the reader that Ellie's mother is a bit fearful of Ann, who tends to forget recent memories, but who has a vise grip on past happenings. Ann is hiding a deep family secret but so is her daughter-in-law.
Ellie is a brilliant child. Even as an eight-year-old, she begins to notice unusual things about both her Grandmother and her own mother. She notices that mom is secretive about present events, particularly after she and Grannie appear to find evidence that Ellie's mom is an adulteress.
What event happened to Grandma Ann so long ago that, even today, makes her feel like a murderer hiding secrets in an attic trunk? Ellie's mother is increasingly uncomfortable with the growing relationship between the older woman and her young daughter. Ann has pictures of Ellie's mother's illicit affair. But is she reading the evidence to suit her dislike for her daughter-in-law; or has her Alzheimer's deluded her grasp on reality?
The Bird House is a stunning read. From the first few pages when the reader finds that Grandma Ann feels guilty of murder, to the last pages when so many incredible secrets surface, the reader will begin to wonder if the entire narration is Ann's own mistaken semi-senile dementia.
The book is not without humor. Ann thinks to herself: "What a waste to be chaste in high school ... saving ourselves for infidelity, for cheating, and lies!"
The Bird House sounds like a book for women. It is not. It is a book for everyone who has dealt with troubling family secrets which, in this tale, are brought to life by an eight-year-old child and her doting grandmother. In my mind, Author Kelly Simmons thoughtfully placed little Ellie with her Grannie to bring some reality to the truth.
Male or female? Read this novel. It will encourage you to respect the elderly for their long term memories, and youth for its logic and inspiration. I would highly recommend The Bird House to ALL readers because, in the end, you will gain a much better understanding of yourself as you age!