The Man Who Loved Birds: A Novel
328 pages Pubdate: 02/09/2016 6 x 9
Having taken great risks—to immigrate to America, to take monastic vows—Bengali physician Meena Chatterjee and Brother Flavian are each seeking safety and security when they encounter Johnny Faye, a Vietnam vet, free spirit, and expert marijuana farmer. Amid the fields and forests of a Trappist monastery, Johnny Faye patiently cultivates Meena’s and Flavian’s capacity for faith, transforming all they thought they knew about duty and desire. In turn they offer him an experience of civilization other than war and chaos.
But Johnny Faye’s law-breaking sets him against a district attorney for whom the law is a tool for ambition rather than justice. Their confrontation leads to a harrowing reckoning that ensnares Dr. Chatterjee and Brother Flavian, who must make a life-or-death choice between an act of justice that may precipitate their ruin or a betrayal that offers salvation.
Inspired by the real-life state police kidnapping and murder of a legendary storyteller and petty criminal, The Man Who Loved Birds engages pressing contemporary issues through a timeless narrative of ill-fated romance. Celebrated author Fenton Johnson has woven a seamless, haunting fable exploring the eternal conflicts between free will and destiny, politics and nature, the power of law and the power of love.
Fenton Johnson is the author of award-winning fiction and literary nonfiction, including two novels, Crossing the River and Scissors, Paper, Rock, as well as Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey among Christian and Buddhist Monks and Geography of the Heart: A Memoir. He is associate professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona and teaches in the MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville.
The Man Who Loved Birds is a beautiful, improbable love story (the best kind) set in a timeless Eden called rural Kentucky as it slides into the modern era. Old ways clash with new, faith meets doubt, greed meets charity, immigrant adjusts to native, and native to exotic. Johnson twins nature and sexual awakening with the intensity of D. H. Lawrence. It’s a bold undertaking, and only a native of those hills and hollows could make it sing with such conviction. -- Clark Blaise, author of Time Lord and Lunar Attractions
The Man Who Loved Birds brings a clear eye and unnerving sensibility to bear on how we live now, while looking at small-town life in Kentucky during the Reagan years. This bird lover—sometimes a Jesus figure, other times a Bacchus, most times just a regular guy—will imprint himself on your heart. A wonderful novel. Erudite, intelligent, and just as important, humane. -- Rabih Alameddine, author of National Book Award finalist An Unnecessary Woman
A valuable exploration of Kentucky from a historical perspective. . . . A brilliant novel, in conception, in structure, and in character. -- Lisa Williams, author of Gazelle in the House -- LEO
“Edgy, often raw, original . . . arrestingly beautiful.” -- Richard Taylor, former Kentucky Poet Laureate and author of Rare Bird: Sonnets on the Life of John James Audubon
The Man Who Loved Birds is a wonderful novel, full-hearted and rollicking and serious. The corrupt and the pure of heart can’t get out of each other’s way in this wild mix of monks, dope growers, politicians, and one good doctor—set in a Kentucky landscape that is the verdant crossroads of greed and desire. -- Joan Silber, author of Fools
Only a native son of the Commonwealth could capture Kentucky’s colorful characters like Fenton; his rich, beautiful language and keen observation gives shape to the story that becomes a gift to the reader. -- Bill Goodman, host of Kentucky Tonight and One to One on Kentucky Educational Television
[...] languid, sensual, and sprawling -- Amy M. Miller
[. . .] Johnson weaves in a multitude of humanity’s deepest fears and questions of freewill, destiny, forbidden love, and politics — modern-day concerns in a Reaganera setting, testifying to their own timelessness. -- Appalachian Heritage
[. . .] Johnson’s narrative is compelling and his descriptions of the central Kentucky landscape are lush and recognizable. The woods, creeks, rocky soil, birds and snakes – particularly the snakes – come alive for the reader. The author has constructed a world of sensual beauty, a landscape that feels both natural and mystical, made more powerful as a place that teeters between paradise and tragedy.
The novel explores the redemptive power of love in a world of good, bad and power-hungry individuals. While its setting is rural Kentucky, its scope is far from myopic. Destiny and coincidence are important themes – what we choose and what chooses us, as demonstrated by my chance selection of this book for our drive to the Knobs, a place now indelibly connected to Johnson’s unforgettable characters. -- Courier-Journal
Johnson's writing is lyrical, compassionate, and thoughtful, but realistic. Full of storytellers and stories, resonant with other voices (you might hear Eudora Welty, Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, or early James Joyce), these novels are definitely worth a slow binge read. And if you want more, there’s always Fenton Johnson’s nonfiction. -- Arizona Daily Star
The story trusts its place and people. Fecund humanity, the heavy burden of the expected, and the glory of the unexpected allows these characters to change constantly [. . . .] In this novel [Johnson] pulls us into vivid and messy lives, rich with revelatory humanity. -- The Gay & Lesbian Review
His ability to craft words [. . . ] [is] a big reason why the author does such masterful work. -- Kentucky Monthly
The characters are distinct, unique and mix together in such a way that you never know what to expect. -- Bowling Green Daily News