The Ornithologist's Guide to Life
Ann Hood
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Buy *The Ornithologist's Guide to Life: Stories* online

The Ornithologist's Guide to Life: Stories
Ann Hood
W.W. Norton
237 pages
July 2005
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Ann Hood's stories in The Ornithologist's Guide to Life are multi-generational, covering the spectrum of human behavior from the attraction of opposites to the unreliable boundaries of friendship. Writing with elegant precision, Hood's awareness of place is tactile and familiar, drawing the reader into the scenes with her fumbling characters as they struggle with issues that require both courage and resilience; in the end, each tale uncovers an irrevocable moment of reckoning. And that is the truth of these stories, that indefinable instant when fate contrives to change everything forever.

The story selections address the delicate balance and disparate concerns of everyday lifewithout judgment. Each slice-of-life tale reveals real people with complex emotions, navigating through days fraught with endless decisions, rendering the commonplace extraordinary and suggesting the inherent danger in choices, given the inevitable consequences. Life is, after all, a series of perfect moments of clarity that strike without warning.

All of the characters are likeable, especially the women sporting familiar badges of yearning and angst, in spite of their lack of security in a constantly changing world. Most are relatively young and single, but the married ones juggle the usual concerns of family versus self, searching for balance and room to breathe. The elderly bear the burden of grief, all too familiar and ever-present. Separated by generations, the character's dilemmas are bridged by their common humanity; Hood has a way of bringing people together, inserting a dialogue where before there was only silence.

All of these people process conflicting emotions, impending losses, fears, and the unreliability of dreams. In one particularly striking story, the perfect life of a perfect wife is shattered by an action that taints the future of those left in the wake of its destruction. Stunned, she stands helpless before the enormity of the betrayal she can no longer deny.

As the title intimates, the author is indeed an observer of behavior, in this case human, not winged. Her protagonists are skillfully arranged for maximum emotional impact, illuminated, exposing the fragile undersides they try vainly to protect. Reality, the inevitable predator, sidles closer, breeching the nest. Innocence has flown, leaving only remnants of a comfort forever relinquished to an uncertain future.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Luan Gaines, 2004

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