HUMMINGBIRDS by Joshua Gaylord
“He likes the attention – – this flurry of femininity stirred up solely because of his entrance into the room. And the fact that it takes so little to appease them – – a simple smile, a raised eyebrow, an obligatory chuckle. He is reminded of hummingbirds, their delicate, overheated bodies fretting in short, angled bursts of movement around a bottle of red sugar water.”
Review by Bonnie Brody (OCT 6, 2009)
This debut novel takes place in the backdrop of an elite girls’ day school in Manhattan, the Carmine-Casey School for Girls. Here we find a heated and flurrying mixture of adolescent girls, the men and women who teach them, and the occasional visitors from the local boys school.
As in every school, there are stars. The star students here are Dixie Doyle, the lollipop sucking, pigtail wearing popular student with her cadre of followers. There is also Liz Warren, the studious, non-smiling student who always gets A’s, and is a playwright. There are two male teachers who the young women adore, Mr. Binhammer and Ted Hughes (with the unfortunate name of a dead poet). Binhammer has been in the school much longer than Mr. Hughes and they have a competitive relationship for popularity and adoration. As Binhammer says, “Carmine-Casey, of course, is the right place for him. Women to the left of him, women to the right of him. Like Alfred Lord Tennyson in a sorority house. That is, until the new teacher came along.”
Binhammer is married and we find out early in the book that Sara, his wife, has been unfaithful to him at a conference. Incredibly, the young man she has her short-lived affair with is none other than Ted Hughes, the new teacher at Carmine-Casey. Binhammer attended this conference with his wife and shortly after they returned home Sara confessed her infidelity. He recognizes Ted Hughes when he first makes his entrance into Carmine-Casey. However, he chooses to keep his connection with Hughes a secret from Sara. How long can he do this without Sara finding out as their are a lot of events at Carmine-Casey that take place in the evenings where wives are expected to attend?
This is a story of women and the men who love and seek to understand them, who watch them flutter and dream, and really, truly LIKE women. “He likes women. He’s not just attracted to them – – he likes them.” It is also a story of girls becoming women and their travails and kudos as they seek to be admired and taken seriously. This is also a story about the women who teach at Carmine-Casey and their attempts to compete with their male counterparts as they attempt to be noticed and attended to by them. The mingling of the female teachers and male teachers often goes well beyond the confines of Carmine-Casey.
Friendship is another important theme of this book. The students and teachers wrangle to be noticed and listened to by those that are important in their lives. Dixie wants Liz to take her seriously, she wants Binhammer to listen to her. Liz wants to be noticed by Hughes. Binhammer wants to be admired by Ted Hughes. “Ted Hughes, the center of so much feminine attention. Binhammer realizes, embarrassed, that what he wants most is to beat those women and girls at their own game, to be dynamic enough to hold the gaze of Ted Hughes. To be the center of attention of the center of attention. That would be something.” Friendships are vied for by students and faculty and they are evolving and changing as the seasons. Nothing at Carmine-Casey is static except the architecture.
The issue of gender is looked at with true puzzlement, as though it is something that is always just beyond our ability to understand. The girls love boys and men. The men love girls and women. However, loving and understanding are two different things. It is easy to love. Understanding, however, is a river that will flow forever, ephemeral and obtuse.
The girls want to be women, the women want to be girlish, the boys want to be men, and the men want to be boys. Carmine-Casey is a sea of wanting to be something else other than what you are. As one girl says, “You think you’re going to get a look at something new. You think that the adult world is going to be like Oz – – once you’re through the door everything is suddenly going to be in color. You find someone to take you there, and it’s like going to a different country. But when you land on the other side you realize you haven’t gone anywhere at all. You’re back where you started. There aren’t any new colors”.
The book is a languishing and lovely read about the people who spend their days in the hallowed halls of Carmine-Casey, and sometimes their evenings as well. It is also about what they do when they leave these hallowed halls. It is about friendship, gender, age, love, sex and wanting – – wanting to be something different, something that is colorful and special, that all will notice and admire. They want to be “the voice that rings out clearer through the halls than any bell at Carmine-Casey.”
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 5 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Harper (October 6, 2009)|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Joshua Gaylord|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More “school” stories:
Testimony by Anita Shreve
Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
Old School by Tobias Wolff
Or see what his Megan Abbott writes:
- Hummingbirds (October 2009)