Little Bird of Heaven
Posted by: Gary Niebuhr
This year’s overall arc to our crime book discussion at my library is “duck and cover.” My idea was that we would read novels wherein the characters would be better served to avoid plunging into a crime investigation rather than what occurs in a typical mystery where we expect the protagonist to jump in feet first.
Perhaps the poster children for this idea are the two narrators of Joyce Carol Oates’ Little Bird of Heaven. The book’s structure is divided into two narrative voices. The first is Krista Diehl. Krista is eleven at the time of the death of local waitress and bluegrass lead singer Zoe Kruller. The murder occurs in a small town in New York state and might normally be just of local interest to a young lady like Krista. What is the deal changer here is the slow realization that her father Eddy has been sleeping with Zoe and is one of two suspects for her murder. Krista’s confession includes her obsessive loyalty to her father and the consequential behavior that makes her a great character to analyze in the book discussion.
The same can be said of the second narrator, Aaron Kruller. Aaron is Zoe’s son and is the person who discovered her murdered body. He has issues and that makes him equally interesting to dissect as Krista. Aaron also has a estranged father who might be as big a suspect as Eddy Diehl. Eventually Aaron and Krista’s paths cross and the resolution of the novel does have to deal with how the two individuals handle a crime in their lives.
This novel is a bit more challenging to read then your typical mystery or average crime novel. It is dense, wordy and moody. There is a repetition to the text which I equate to two things. The book incorporates a bluegrass song call Little Bird of Heaven by Martha Scanlan so some of the repetition is almost like hearing the chorus of a song multiple times over a performance of it. The other obvious truth is that repeating a story chances it especially if there is any dissembling going on.
This novel was not our groups favorite read but it was one of those discussion that is self-guided and ran on forever. I would challenge any book discussion group to tackle this complex novel of character if you want to have a great book discussion.