What Begins with Bird, by Noy Holland, is both an investigation of family relationships and a sophisticated study of language and rhythm. Holland creates an exhilarating tension between the satisfactions of meaning and the attenuated beauty of lyric, making her fiction felt as deeply as it is understood. An unstable sister whose misconceived pregnancy replays the endless nightmare of childhood siblings and a wrecked marriage occasioning the misery of a horse: these are the frozen events around which Holland's words congeal. The poetry of her images, powerful but immediately absorbed, can bring consciousness to a standstill: "By then I've reached her: Sister spluttering, spitting out the plug of snow. Her mouth is bleeding. Her face is the grotesque of a face, a soul in flames, some rung of hell, and she is sobbing, spit puddling under her tongue." The Faulknerian echoes of Holland's prose invoke a dreamscape, a panorama enclosing barns and men and guns and Mother, as she trudges the cold hills in her nightgown. This writing is exquisite, a gorgeousness as unforgettable as a stabbing pain or the after-image of a howl in the pitch of night.
Second collection of stories from National Book Award nominee Holland (The Spectacle of the Body, 1994). Although specifics vary, the six tales circle around the same set of twisted relationships among a stable older sister who has recently given birth, a younger sister whose life has veered into chaos, the older sister's passive husband, the sisters' distant father and their various pets. The title story is narrated by the unnamed older sister, consumed by fear for her healthy newborn child. After the crazy younger sister (also nameless) comes for Easter from her institutional "home," guilt, distrust, resentment and love ferment until the elder sibling finds release with a small, sharp act of violence. In "Someone Is Always Missing," a third-person narrator provides the sisters' names. Libby's husband, meanwhile, articulates his deep paternal love for his child, his passive rage toward his dominating wife and his fear that he will lose them both, in "Time for the Flat-Headed Man," written as a speech introducing a visiting writer his wife has brought to town. In "Fairway," an older man who appears to be the sisters' aloof father finds his quiet life disrupted by a visit from his youngest daughter. "Coquina" sets an archetypal paranoid male and passive female on an island to begin their married life. Holland pushes her experimental language to its lyrical edge in the final story, "Rooster, Pollard, Cricket, Goose," which links violence perpetrated upon animals with a young daughter's sense of abandonment. Risk-taking, ambitious prose: sometimes deeply affecting, sometimes merely affected. (Kirkus Reviews)