by Kati Heng
Back in college, I had this Canadian writing professor who created some of the most disgusting things you’ll ever read (disgusting, I mean gritty and raw; actually I don’t even think he’d care if I said gross and ended there.) This guy did one-on-one sessions with me that consisted of a lot of me just spouting out how much I love David Foster Wallace. He’d be like, “Oh, you like Wallace? This Canadian author is totally inspired by him, too,” and then he’d give me a book that was like the story of some depressed chick living in Nova Scotia desert who hunts regularly, which, really, were great, but like, I could never relate back to Wallace in any deeper significance than this book also kinda made me sad and really really want to shower.
The point of that deeply personal story: I’ve read some bleak stories and some gross things, not just from “God Bless America, Toliet Bowls are Gross” side of things, and feel completely safe in saying Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing is one of the greatest bleak and icky things I’ve ever read.
The story starts with rough-worn beauty Jake Whyte (WhYte, WYld? I spent the entire book questioning if this was even anything) finding the corpse of a mangled sheep lying outside the British-Island farmhouse she inhabits very much alone. She’s thinking it’s the neighbor kids, just picking on the weird new lady who lives alone, just trying to get shit done like the guys around her do. Oh, by the way, in case you haven’t picked up – Jake’s super rad and not into ‘women’s work’ or being treated as the weaker sex or any of that nonsense.
From there, we get flashbacks into the reasons she’s gone out to the wild all alone, the reasons why she’s so hesitant to let any man give her a bit of help / affection. Years ago and miles away in the rich lands of Australia, Jake had to leave home and school way too soon (I can’t tell you why because, WOW, you’ll want to read it yourself), had to find enough cash to keep herself fed, had to take the types of jobs available for homeless young women, and eventually, had to put up with the excessive control of an abusive relationship. The stuff she goes through is TERRIFYING, even when you know, hey, it’s gonna be okay, she left that guy and left Australia, right? Even in Britian, Jake’s watching her back, and really, you can’t blame her after you read all the junk she’s been through.
Oh, plus there’s a monster. I’m not even referring to the guy she fled the country from (although, metaphors here? MAJOR METAPHORS); like literally, it’s not the neighbor kids messing with her sheep, but a freakin’ MONSTER that’s not a wolf or coyote or anything really known to scientists.
Jeez, this book is good. I mean, it’s DISGUSTING, the things she has to live through (think of Charlize Theron “Monster” gross), but the way Wyld writes it down makes it so worth reading. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I read a book where the author used “farted” as an adjective to describe that weird sucking sound when you pull your foot out of the mud. That’s not a particularly pretty example of her writing. That’s probably good.
This book isn’t by any means light, but it’s amazing. Oh also, all the books that professor would give me usually ended with the male lead getting killed and/or another woman pregnant and the female lead getting post-partum depression or falling out of love with the father or her children, to the point that I had to put these books down and read Nylon because a girl can only take SO MUCH. Luckily, with All the Birds, you see all the conflict, but you see it resolve. I’m not saying the ending is “happy” (I guess the ending’s up to you to call happy or the most depressing thing ever; I think my reaction was an audible AWWW!), but the drama airs out by the end.
It’s gross, but it’s not gonna leave a bad taste in your mouth.