by Tracey Lindberg
I occasionally struggle getting into a story. In the case of Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange, it had to do with the unfamiliar dialects. (Trainspotting improved once I was able hear the Scottish accent in my mind, whereas the great writing in A Clockwork Orange made the meanings of the made-up slang apparent as the story progressed.) In the case of Birdie, my immediate struggles were of a different nature entirely. Firstly, I couldn’t match the choppy rhythm of the writing. After acclimatizing, however, I still had issues with the story. I think this had to do with the intentions of the author; Lindberg seemed to want to capture what I’ll loosely call the “Cree experience.” Being far-removed from a large Cree girl who moves from a secluded reserve to the city, and not understanding the emotional baggage that accompanies all the abuses she endured along the way, I needed the author to explicitly take me there; the fact that Lindberg plods along to that point makes me think that the story will initially be something special for those in the know, before all those dirty moniawak get hip to it, and also makes me think that it will definitely result in a hugely different experience if a moniawak, such as myself, ever picks Birdie up for a second reading.
Luckily, Lindberg eventually gets there, explicitly bringing across what Bernice––along with the other major characters––is going through, and I saw some wonderful things once we reached that point. The story follows Bernice, Birdie, who goes on a spiritual fast, remaining in bed, no longer speaking and hardly moving, reliving everything that brought her to that point. In Birdie, Lindberg teaches valuable lessons, such as the healing power of facing your past, the importance of close relationships, how things can fall apart when you lose that sense of home or family, and how people need to find their own way. The author also peppers the narrative with little touches that make the journey feel almost like a folk tale, such as combining words (i.e. thinkfeeling) that evoke what her characters are going through much better than either word on its own, or through the short tales that end chapters about birds and wolves, told by what sounds like a charismatic elder, mirroring what happens in the main story.
While the author said she wanted to speak to people who are going through and have gone through similar situations, the true testimony to Lindberg’s talent isn’t just that she succeeded at doing this––judging from reviews on Goodreads––but that she was simultaneously able to bring outsiders in and give them a piece of that life. No matter your background, I suspect you’ll get walk away from Birdie with something useful; you just may struggle to get to that point, as I did.