LITTLE BIRD OF HEAVEN by Joyce Carol Oates

Book Quote:

“I thought No love like your first.
The hope in their eyes! So blinding sometimes, I have to look away.
Or maybe it’s fury. Smoldering-hot acid-fury jammed up inside their ulcerated bowels.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (SEP 15, 2009)

Little Bird of Heaven is inimitably Oates. It has all her signatures – -the stylization of her writing, the focus on family narrative as destiny, and the mixture of pain and love. The stylized writing in this book is more pronounced than in some of her others. She repeats some things multiple times for emphasis and for varied affect. Initially, this bothered me but as the book progressed, I was so caught up in the narrative that nothing could deter me from wanting to turn to the next page.

As in her other books, love is closely mixed with pain, sexual and emotional longing, cruelty and betrayal. The family narrative is examined as destiny. She explores the theme of wanting to rewrite our narratives with the hope that this time it can turn out differently. The characters are drawn to people and events that remind them of their pasts, painful as they were. However, they hope that by reliving the past, they can change the outcome. Oates asks the reader, “Can we really change our destinies?” She acknowledges the fact that life is ever-changing but people are caught up in the current of family destinies.

This novel is about the murder of a young woman named Zoe Kruller. She is a singer in a local band, mother of Aaron and estranged wife of Delray. There are two persons of interest, suspects in this murder – – Delray Kruller, Zoe’s estranged husband, and Eddie Diehl, Zoe’s lover. Eddie is the father of Krista and he has been having an affair with Zoe for quite some time. Once the murder occurs he is shunned by his wife and made to leave their home.

The story is told in two parts, from two viewpoints. The first half of the book is told from the vantage point of Krista Diehl, Eddie’s daughter. She is close to her father and loves him unconditionally. She believes with all her heart that he could not have murdered Zoe. She believes that Delray Kruller is the murderer. Krista becomes obsessed with Aaron Kruller though at the time of the murder she is in grade school and he is a middle school student, about four years Krista’s senior. She believes she loves him and begins to shadow him, appearing at places he is known to go.

Aaron’s story is the second half of this novel. He is the one who finds the murdered Zoe and this breaks a part of him. He is aware of Krista but has no idea why she is appearing at places he frequents. He believes that Eddie Diehl, Krista’s father, murdered his mother. Aaron and Krista come from different sides of the track. Aaron is part Seneca Indian and there is a lot of prejudice against his people in their small town of Sparta, N.Y. There is one scene where Aaron finds himself Krista’s savior and the profundity of love, cruelty and pain is described in a poignant and almost revolting manner.

Oates does a wonderful job of describing the pain that children endure when they grow up in addicted families. Both Eddie Diehl, Zoe and Delray Kruller are alcoholics and drug addicts and their children live with shame, secrecy and silence as they harbor a loyalty to their parents – – no one must know what goes on inside the home. At the same time, they become what is known as “parental children,” children who parent the adults. As Aaron says “He’d been an adult for as long as he could remember, before even Zoe had died. Only vaguely could Krull recall a boy – – a little boy named ‘Aaron’ – – on the far side of Zoe’s death as in a shadowy corner of the house on Quarry Road”. Not only do Aaron and Krista lose their childhoods to the ravages of addiction, Aaron feels that this has become his legacy.

“Headed to hell after her. Drinking beer till his head buzzed and his gut was bloated like something dead and swollen in the water thinking how it was so, Zoe had plunged into hell and was pulling them after her like dirty water swirling down a drain. The kind of family situation, you could call it an inheritance, you’d naturally need to get high and stay high as long as you could.”

This is a powerful book, not a light read. It is a book about despair, pain, longing, betrayal, addiction and cruelty. It is a book about life on the edges of the precipice where the characters are holding on by the mere strength of their fingertips. It is a book with brilliant insight and a riveting narrative.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 39 readers
PUBLISHER: Ecco (September 15, 2009)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Joyce Carol Oates
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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September 15, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Class - Race - Gender, Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, NE & New York, y Award Winning Author

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