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.