Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mrs. Scribe Reviews: Looking After Pigeon

Looking After Pigeon

Beautifully crafted to a fault, Looking After Pigeon, by Maud Carol Markson, transports us from New York City to the Jersey Shore during one summer in the '70s. Markson's lovely imagery makes for an almost Gatsby-esque read. But that may be one of the challenges I have with this novel.

I wanted to like Pigeon, I really, really did. Markson spins a beautiful tale, replete with a Sugar Plum Fairy-esque diction that will attract her readers and leave them wanting more. But a few of the characters, plot twists and transparent literary devices kept getting in my way.

Pigeon comes from a family of birds. Dove, 16, is the oldest. Robin, the only boy, is middle-schoolish. And then there's Pigeon, the youngest, and the novel's narrator.

The family~3 kids plus a mom & dad~lives in New York. But apparently, domestic bliss isn't all it's cracked up to be. Daddy gets caught embezzling from the pharmacy where he works. Then, Pigeon wakes up one day and Dear Old Dad is gone.

I never did figure out if Pigeon's Daddy flew the coop out of shame, or what. But our story moves along, 'cause that's what stories do. The family~sans Daddy~makes its way to the Jersey Shore, settling down with Uncle Edward.

The rest of this brief exercise in character development takes place at the beach near Atlantic City, during one summer's time. The tale has quite a bit to recommend it, but there are also a few flies in this soft-serve, Boardwalk confection.

Pigeon is 5 years old. I love her voice, I love her attitude, I love her touch of innocence ripped asunder by an unstable family life. But she's only 5. And while I wasn't expecting the spunky Pigeon to be Holden Caulfield of Catcher fame, she's still pretty short on life experience to tell such an intricate tale.

I'm enamored of several of Markson's characters, although their appearances in the novel are fleeting. I admire Dove's independence, but I keep hoping she'll wake up and realize she's on the wrong road. I enjoy Robin's mystery, but he doesn't hang around long enough for me to get to know him well.

And as for Pigeon's Mommy Dearest, I understand that she's a tad crazy. But she needs to have a better literary vehicle to ride. I don't have enough info about the "cult" Mommy takes up with to form a decent opinion on whether she's fit to be a mother, or not.

I was a tad sad, as I often am when I finish a particularly good page-turner, when I closed the back cover of Looking After Pigeon. But mostly I was sad that the author lost a marvelous opportunity to develop these incredibly kitschy characters. She needed more than the 192 pages she allowed.

F. Scott Fitzgerald crafted a masterpiece in fewer than 200 pages. But Pigeon isn't Gatsby. And this little girl needs more room to grow.


quilly said...

Excellent book review. I appreciate the way you tell all the great things about the book, yet explain why it still didn't measure up to a really good read.

The Blonde Duck said...

This is a fabulous review.

Susie said...

Great review! Makes me really miss my book club:-)

Cairo Typ0 said...

Great review. This may sound odd, but i'm always more pleased to read negative book reviews than glowing ones. Balanced reviews like this really come off as more sincere than a gushy "i love everything" one.

Thank you.

Maud said...

Thank you for the great review of my book, Looking After Pigeon. Although the book didn't measure up to all your expectations, I can tell that you are a careful reader and I am heartened by the fact that you connected with some of the characters and appreciated the writing. I hope some of your readers will "try" my book and send me their own comments. I love to hear from readers.


Hot Tub Lizzy said...

I feel so intelligent reading this review.


When I'm president I'll have a big club (WAY bigger than Oprah) and you can conduct the monthly meetings in the Blue Room.

Mayhem and Moxie said...

Great, great review! I loved the amount of detail that you gave to your post.

Also, like Typ0 said, your review was honest and unbiased.

Well done!

kys said...

You are a great reviewer. I appreciate the way you praised it but still revealed the shortcomings.

trish said...

I have to add my voice to everyone who loved your review. I loved how you played with the words and the themes in the book. I think you missed your calling!

Thanks for being on this tour, Melissa!

Molly said...

I'm surprised it's only 192 pages, seems short to me. Great review.

blueviolet said...

You know, I think I still might be interested in reading it. Wonderful review.

Maud said...

Blue Violet,

I hope you will still read my book, Looking After Pigeon. (and anyone else out there as well). No book is for everyone, but those of you who are fans of literary ficiton about family, memory, growing up might enjoy it. And yes, it is only 190 pages, but some of that is because the publisher wanted to make it under 200 pages. The type is small!

If you do read the book, I hope you will write to me with your comments. I truly love to hear from readers!


Tracy P. said...

Sigh. When I am an empty nester, I shall read. Been reading Because of Winn-Dixie with my 4th grader's reading group at school, though, and that's just my speed these days. Your description of Pigeon reminds me of Opal, the disarming young teller of Winn-Dixie. So sweet.

Maud said...


I find there is never enough time to read (and I am an empty nester). There is always something that needs to be done and always someone to worry about.
4th grade is probably too young for my book, but I know many mature 6th graders who have read it and enjoyed the book. It is not being targeted for young adults, but I do think that is a great audience for the book.
As for reading children's books with your 4th graders-- I have found that the books I read as a child and young adult have stuck with me the most! I still think about Up a Road Slowly and The Witch of Blackbird Pond-- both of which I read as a 4th or 5th grader. The news stories I read yesterday-- those I have trouble remembering.


Dr.John said...

And another book joins my don't buy list.

knit1kids4 said...

What a fabulous review. Makes me want to read the book and see what I think! Off to check it out!

Maud said...


I do hope you will check out my book! And please write me your thoughts after you have finished reading it- I love to hear from readers!


mama-face said...

When you made the Gatsby reference i thought this would be a must read for me. I may have to see if I can get it from the library.

I really enjoy your excellent reviews. You tell it like it is.

Miss Jo said...

Great review. Curious why the author didn't develop the characters more.

Maud said...

Miss Jo,

I certainly felt like I developed the characters completely. They are certainly fully realized for me and many readers. But you will have to judge for yourself (if you read the book). And if you do, please let me know what you think.



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