Kim Church is a small, frail woman made of bird bones and ombre. Just before she reads from her first novel, she adjusts her glasses on her nose a touch and clears her throat. There are no water bottles in front of her. There is a sick Mayghan Mayhew Bergman who just finished reading next to her and is looking towards the four chair crowd of her family. I am in a spinning chair that can be altered like you’re at the hair salon. I quite like being tall enough to swing my legs like I did as a child and so I don’t depress the height of the fancy mesh chair at NCSU’s new library. (We were all in the same room at NC Lit Fest). The girl next to me quickly discusses her NaNoWriMo novel. I’m more focused on her mermaid hair, just a swift comb and she would be as smooth as Ariel. Truthfully, I’m here for one reason and one reason only, to meet Mayghan Mayhew Bergman who is my short fiction idol. I have been going to events all day just waiting for three o’clock. I spent a solid two hours talking to a pompous almost-graduate of the literature department. At least he waited until I was over halfway through my black bean burger from the Cluck Truck to begin discussing his goals.
This was the day I decided I might try to write a novel.
I went for Bergman and came out full of Church and Wrinkle. I haven’t read Wash by Margaret Wrinkle yet, but I was lucky enough to get a NetGalley copy of Byrd by Kim Church.
My toes weren’t touching the ground. I was swinging my legs just slightly and there we all were, in a first grade classroom, introduced to Addie and her love of books. “Also, there’s the paper-and-glue smell of them, and the way the pages turn soft from being read and re-read” (79/2652). Addie is working on cursive, phonics, learning how to admire a boy with a name full of alliteration the way some girls only date boys with names that start with certain letters (J, B, C) because we’re young and we don’t believe in coincidence, but we believe in fate. She watches Roland Rhodes bite his ice cream sandwich into different animal shapes. In high school, he watches her come unglued from behind the wooden grate of a desk when the teacher asks for argument, politely. They don’t quite fall in love, but they fall into something, the only way you can fall when you’ve known someone since you can acknowledge yourself, continually. And then like all girls once in their life, all roads lead to Roland.
They separate and come back together. Roland moves to pursue a music career and Addie works on the top shelf of a bookstore where she lives as well. She follows him to another coast (did I mention this was set in my hometown of Raleigh) and they drink cheap wine, and take up habits, and she finds the pit stains of another woman in his closet, but she doesn’t mind because his name has alliteration and his hands move like branches on the neck of a guitar. Addie becomes pregnant with Byrd and the rest of the story is the beautiful becoming of a woman who has to give something up.
Addie is a reflection of most readers. She practices inferencing, she likes to name things, she believes in the power of a story more than the power of reality, and sometimes she has to make up words in order to get her life to fit cosmically together. Byrd, her almost son. The boy she read to and whispered to and sung to and wrote to even though she hid the notes in a shoebox in her closet, the way some girls hide all the belongings of a boy in a break-up box below their bed. Except for Addie, this belonging had a heartbeat and can’t be dug through in a time of epiphany.
I adored this book, I maybe even more than adored it. One day I’ll make a list of all the books I’ve read about birds and their misspellings and every single one of them I’ve probably loved. I loved Kim Church reading from her own story, I loved the small habits of her fingers and the way she touched just a corner of the page. I can see Addie in the subtle rasp of Kim Church. It took her ten years to write this book. Five years to write in first person and five more to start over when she realized that wasn’t the right point of view for this novel. She’s a practicing lawyer in Raleigh and lives with a man who sculpts and paints Carolina silos seen from the distance of a highway. Her story is beautiful and so is the story she’s written on the page. Addie is admirable even though most readers wouldn’t be able to comprehend her giving up a baby that she shared with no one.
What happens to Roland is dust and the updates on Byrd are few, but linger. The affect of this one decision quakes the families in this book, and even the people no longer connected with Addie’s life. The minor characters are brilliant, my favorite being the card reading miracle worker, a real “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” He himself could find a book in the too-filled drawer of Church’s mind. I would read that, I would read any book that Kim Church writes. I’m not just saying this because she’s local, and I got to be three feet away from her while she read from the second vignette of Byrd, but because when I was too tired to read at the end of a long day, I didn’t have to force myself, I wanted to be with the book, tapping next, next, next.
*Here is an excerpt from Dzanc Books