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WesternSFA


Other Birds
by Sarah Addison Allen
St. Martins Press, $25.99, 291pp
Published: August 2022

It's been a long seven years since I was able to wallow in a book from one of my favorite authors.  I feel like a cat rolling around inside a warm blanket.   This story is pure Sarah Addison Allen; sweet, warm, with characters that are easy to love.

Zoey is starting college and moving into her mother's apartment in a quirky complex, called the Dellawisp, on a small island in S. Carolina.  She brings with her an invisible bird named Pigeon. The apartment was left to Zoey when her mother died several years earlier so it's been vacant for a long time.  The Dellawisp is so named for the magical little birds that live in the courtyard; friendly and opinionated, the birds are unlike any she's ever seen before.  The Dellawisp only holds a handful of apartments so one might expect all the tenants would know each other well.  That hasn't been true for a long time due to the intrusive and often abusive behavior of one of the tenants. But that tenant, Lizbeth, dies the night Zoey arrives.  As Zoey starts to make contact with each of her new neighbors, she finds that Lizbeth's influence is slow to wane; most of the tenants resist her friendly overtures. 

One tenant is a sister to the deceased, her name is Lucy; she lives like a hermit, never acknowledging or greeting anyone and only coming out at night.  Lucy always seems to be watching out for something…or someone.  Charlotte is a young 30-something who draws henna designs for a living; but she's recently been kicked out of the artist space and rather 'black-balled' in the tiny community through no fault of her own.  And someone stole all the money she had in the world. Charlotte has a very big secret that keeps her looking over her shoulder, always.  Mac is a big quiet man who, to Zoey's surprise, is the head chef in the fanciest resort on the island.  And although he can create magical dishes that make the diner feel comforted; he can't find any comfort in his own life.  And, finally, there is Frasier who is the custodian of the Dellawisp.  His first and foremost concern is always the welfare of the birds.  He was always the focus of Lizbeth's rage and impatience and it hasn't gotten any better since she died; her ghost is still full of rage and impatience.  The complex was bought and renovated by the island's favorite famous son; Roscoe Avanger, a rather famous writer who wrote exactly one book which was about the island.

Someone is creeping about in the night and unlocking doors but nothing is ever missing.  Every person in the Dellawisp seems to be waiting for something; keeping their lives on hold.  It's possible that the ghosts who live at the Dellawisp might be responsible; but they are all waiting for something, as well.

Lizbeth was a hoarder; particularly of paper, any paper.  Since Zoey has no job waiting for her; Frasier offers to pay her to clean out the apartment.  Apparently, Lucy has absolutely no interest in her effects.  And, surprisingly to only Zoey, neither does Lizbeth's son, Oliver.  The one thing that Zoey has learned about Lizbeth is that she was obsessed with finding a story and everyone believed it might be story notes from an unpublished work of Roscoe Avanger.  Zoey isn't so sure.  But in looking through every single piece of paper, she learns other things about the departed Lizbeth.  But her efforts to share the effects and information with Lizbeth's two surviving family members are brutally rebuffed.

As with all Allen's previous stories, she writes about a small period of time when people are dealing with their personal issues.  She intertwines the stories but they aren't necessarily dependent on each other.  She generally introduces a small conflict or evil near the end that is usually a catalyst for one or more of the storylines to be resolved.  But, although she does that in this book, it really is Zoey who is the catalyst.  We, the readers, just get to sit back and voyeuristically enjoy peeking into these people's lives.  We learn to appreciate who they are and root for them to find their own life's meaning.  And I really did not figure out what Pigeon was; I should've seen it coming…

Allen is a superb storyteller and, selfishly, I wish her a long life so she can continue providing me with warmth and lovely people and their stories.  ~~ Catherine Book

For more titles by Sarah Addison Allen click here

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