THE BIRD SKINNER

By Alice Greenway

Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014

312 pages, $2

ISBN 978-0-8021-2104-2

When a man decides he has had enough of life, when its pain and disappointment become too much to bear, he thinks thoughts he’d never say aloud to anyone; he becomes self-destructive.

“Yet is every man his own greatest enemy, and as it were his own executioner,” wrote British physician Sir Thomas Browne in the 17th century. In 1973 on a Maine island, Jim Kennoway is thinking just those very thoughts.

“The Bird Skinner” is award-winning author Alice Greenway’s second novel, following “White Ghost Girls” (Grove Press, 2006). This stunning, lyrical and evocative tale exposes the fragile decisions people make, whether they choose to be happy and content or miserable in their self-pity, blaming others and deliberately hurting those who love them.

Jim is the bird skinner, an ornithologist who once worked for the prestigious Natural History Museum in New York City. Now, however, he is just a one-legged drunk recluse, living in the family’s old summer home on Fox Island in Penobscot Bay, drinking and smoking too much, out of work and feeling very sorry for himself.

Then Cadillac Baketi arrives. She is the daughter of a Solomon Islander Jim served with in the Pacific during World War II. She will stay the summer with Jim until she starts medical school at Yale.

Cadillac’s unexpected arrival displeases Jim — his self-imposed isolation is disrupted and brings wartime memories of her father, Tosca, flooding back. Alternating between Jim’s 1943 South Pacific wartime experiences and 1973, the story carefully and subtly reveals how Jim became such an embittered man.

His treatment of the woman and his only son is difficult to understand, as he rejects every loving and considerate gesture, until one day his self-pity overcomes his judgment and he makes a fateful decision. And Sir Thomas was right.

A LIFE LIVED OUTDOORS: REFLECTIONS OF A MAINE SPORTSMAN

By George Smith

Islandport Press, 2014

218 pages, $16.95

ISBN 978-1-934031-59-9

Anyone who hunts, fishes, hikes or camps in Maine surely has heard of George Smith. An avid and outspoken outdoorsman, Smith is the former executive director of the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine, representing Maine sportsmen before the public and the state legislature for 18 years. He is also a prolific, talented and award-winning newspaper columnist.

“A Life Lived Outdoors” is a collection of 63 previously published essays which have appeared in numerous publications. As expected, many essays are about hunting and fishing, conservation measures and “other outdoor fun.” Other essays are about family, friends, pet peeves and astute commentary on everyday life.

Some are funny, some sad and poignant, others are educational and inspiring. In “Yard Sale — Triumph and Tragedy,” he cannot understand why people won’t buy his treasures — he can’t even give them away. He offers hilarious ideas for state license plate illustrations (black flies and the rear end of a moose are just a few). In “Church Shopping,” he suggests that newspapers print church reviews just like they do for movies and restaurants.

He also praises folks who do good things for Maine. In one essay he praises school teachers for their dedication, hard work and positive influence on students. In another he gives high marks to the memory of Bob Reny (Renys Department Stores) for his honest approach to affordable retail.

Learn why it is a very bad idea to interrupt bears that are mating and why “hunting turkeys is more fun than hunting deer” (Oh, the blasphemy!).

Best of all, his essays reinforce why “we may never measure up to the prosperity enjoyed elsewhere, but no one should doubt the richness of a Maine life.”

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.

 

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