This book made my heart sing. I discovered it on the 2015 Canada Reads List , and devoured it. When it was over, I felt elated.
And The Birds Rained Down is about 3 old men living in the woods. And, when I say old, I mean the youngest is 86 and the oldest is 94. The only people who know they are there are 2 younger men who are using the land behind their camps for growing marijuana.
We get to know more about these men as the story goes on, but the story is predominantly about them at their present age. Many books with aged protagonists focus on the lives they have already lived. In this story, the characters get to live some more. Their stories aren’t over yet.
The men share a death pact. They are there to live out the remainder of their lives in peace and freedom; the freedom to live and die how they choose. But, if they should ever need help, they each have a little salt box of strychnine in their cabins. They spend a lot of time talking and joking about death.
Death is an old friend. They talk about her casually. She has been on their heels for so long that they can feel her presence lurking, waiting, discreet during the day but sometimes intrusive at night. Their morning conversation is one way of keeping her at bay. Once they have said her name, she arrives, joins in their conversation, won’t relent, wanting the spotlight, and they snub her, make fun of her, at times insult her and then send her off, and she, like a good dog, goes back to gnawing her bone in the corner. She’s in no rush.
Then they are visited by two women. First, a photographer, working on a project about the Great Fires, comes looking for one of the last survivors of the Great Matheson Fire of 1916. Then, an 82-year-old lady escaping from a mental institution that she had been living in for the past 66 years. How do the men respond to this invasion? You might be surprised to find out.
What follows is a smart, quirky, touching story about life, death, and love. It has unwashed crotchety sweet old men, a couple of pot-smokers, an intelligent middle-aged woman, a bird-like old lady who is possibly off her rocker, 4 dogs and a cat, an unexpected artist, the history of the Great Fires in Ontario, an eccentric museum curator with a “collection of impossible loves”, hope, love, friendship, a quiet mystery of a past life, and the message ringing loud and clear that we are never too old to live life.
The freedom to live or to die, there’s nothing like it to make you choose life.
Love, there is only love… to explain what we don’t understand.
Happiness needs only your consent.
This book deserves a wider audience, and I hope that being on the Canada Reads Long-list this year will help make that happen. And, if recommending it here on my blog can convince someone to pick it up, that would make me happy, too!
Special thanks to C.J. for helping me to figure out why we love stories with older characters, and to realize how this one is a bit different than some. How about you? What are some of your favourite books featuring the aged, and what is it that you love about them?