First, my thanks to JNaz for calling the author Brian Doyle, and specifically the book Mink River to my attention. What a glorious ride for 319 pages without once a letdown. Prose poetry in the form of a novel. Yes, as JNaz mentioned, Doyle is sparse on punctuation and fulsome on adjectives and lists, but this is fitting for the content.
If you love a world made from the whole cloth of a writer’s imagination, set in a place that is utterly clear, with characters that are oh-so-skillfully drawn, this is the book for you.
All of the characters are favorites of mine, but I especially love the magical realism of a crow named Moses, who you see on the cover of the book. What a bird! Nursed back to health by a nun (also a terrific character) who found him in the mud, injured, and taught him to speak! Thereafter, he is part of communities both avian and human. Doyle speaks here of Moses, channeled through the nun. Was there ever a better love poem?
In the last few minutes before the old nun died in her bed on the top floor of the old hotel she thought of Moses and everything she love about him–the way he craned his head to peer at her, the way he landed with a plop, the way he crouched like a small black feathered weightlifter before jumping into the air, the ornate cast of his mind, his affections for the psalms, his interest in all languages, the way he would give her the bigger piece of fish when they split a fish for dinner, the way he dusted table and windows with his wings, the way he snorted nasally when he laughed, the time he drank a glass of wine and ended up on his back on the grass both of them giggling helplessly, the way he woke her with a kiss on the forehead, the way he hilariously tried to learn to use a fork, the way he held himself motionless and nervous when she trimmed his toenails, the way he wormed himself into blankets by the fireplace so that only his eyes and beak could be see, the way he never ceased trying to catch insects on the wing on the theory he was every bit as talented as any piss-ant nighthawk or swift or swallow, the way he attacked hawks furiously and called them dirty names in all his languages and crowed ribaldly about it afterwards with his friends, the way he befriended children gravely, the way he waited by the library door and hopped in hurriedly when someone came in or out until the librarian cut a little pet door for him, the way he painted himself white once for her birthday…the way they both wept bitter tears in the kitchen when she told him one morning haltingly that she wanted him to leave, and would not tell him why, until his grave persistence finally got to her, and she told him that the doctor had told her that she was ill unto death…he must go, and never see her again, and that way they would always have each other, always have this bronze morning, the bronze triangles of toast between them, the bowl of bronze berries, her right hand on his left foot, his eyes closed, her body shivering, the burble of pigeons on the fire escape the only sound in the room.
4 comments on “Mink River by Brian Doyle”
What a wonderful quote! I’m one of the few in my neighborhood who loves the crows. They can be a nuisance, but I love to watch them and hear them call to one another.
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Barbara, the whole book is like this. I highly recommend it.
This is the time of year when raucous grackles are moving through our area. They’re messy (hey, so are humans) but I love the way they line up on the power lines at dusk and discuss whatever it is they discuss. Seeing them looking like clothespins on a washing line never fails to command my attention.
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Oh yes, I too love the corvids. They are intelligent and playful, long-lived and clever. Noisy, yes, very noisy. We have ravens that sometimes nest in a tree in our yard and there is an incredible amount of conversation. Especially after fledging, hollering back and forth from all over the yard.
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Teri, I love that you have described this as a love poem. And indeed it is! Such tenderness. In fact, I think the entire book may be a love poem. So, so glad that you enjoyed the ride that is Mink River. So glad that you were able to jump in.
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