One Bird’s Choice

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One Bird’s Choice by Iain Reid. House of Anansi Press 2010.

I picked up One Bird’s Choice after seeing it listed on the Canada Reads 2012 Top 40 Longlist. This year’s theme is ‘True Stories’. Follow this link to see the top forty books. There are some great titles here, many I knew little about or hadn’t heard of. The list is well worth a look.

One Bird’s Choice is subtitled A Year in the life of an Overeducated, Underemployed Twenty-Something Who Moves Back Home. The subtitle gives you a much better idea of what the book is about than the title, which refers only to a small incident on the farm, but perhaps by extension makes reference to Reid’s own choices. One Bird’s Choice caught my eye because the writer is about the age of my own children, while his parents, naturally, are of my own generation. Additionally, the story is set on a farm in the Ottawa region north of here.

Reid’s elder brother and sister have been very successful. His brother is an engineer with an enviable career, while his sister has attended Oxford and settled into life on Iceland with her husband and new baby. Since graduating, Iain has lived in Toronto, scratching out a living with an assortment of odd jobs, once even coaching a women’s basketball team, never really hitting his stride. Reid returns to the family home where he grew up after nearly a decade out of the nest when he is offered a summer position with the CBC in Ottawa. What begins as a stay of a few months stretches into a year, as Reid examines his life and goals and works on developing a writing career.

As Iain’s year begins, the farm residents are introduced in comic sketches, the little flock of sheep, the chickens, the dogs, the cats, and of course, Iain’s sixty-something parents. I really got to like his Mom and Dad. Iain, with the eyes of the young, paints them as kindly but a bit dottering and out of it, even though his professorial father continues to lecture part-time. My favorite image is Iain’s memory of his mother towing his older brother down the driveway with the family car as he makes jump after jump on his homemade ski ramp.

As Iain becomes integrated into his parent’s routine, he participates increasingly in farm activities. His account of mucking out the sheep barn in the stifling heat of summer is hilarious. I found it interesting to compare Iain’s involvement with Christmas preparations, when the extended family all returned for the big turkey dinner, to that of my own children. His contribution was apparently minimal, while my three girls can all make a turkey dinner, complete with pies, and are a big help in the kitchen now. Boys are still raised with very traditional expectations. I was surprised that his mother, although raising a family of (presumably) computer-literate youngsters, hadn’t developed even basic computer skills such as emailing.

A postscript informs the reader that Iain has now moved out to his own place, and obviously, he has had a book published! One Bird’s Choice is an easy-reading, sometimes reflective, sometimes funny account of his year, an enjoyable read.

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2 Responses to One Bird’s Choice

  1. Seabrooke says:

    My initial interpretation of the title was that it referred to Iain himself, and was a play on the metaphor of parents whose children have left home being “empty-nesters” – making him the bird that left the nest. And this one bird’s choice was to return home for a while as he pursued an opportunity.

    I can relate to Iain’s situation. The overeducated, underemployed, with successful siblings, anyway. Perhaps not the moving back home part. He seems to be a contributing writer for the National Post now?

  2. Sheri says:

    Yeah, that would work for the title too. The incident in the book relates to one of the birds, guinea fowl I think? Who is the last of the flock surviving, and rather than joining the duck flock, adopts Iain’s Mom to follow around.

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