One fall night off the coast of a remote island in Nova Scotia, an airplane plummets to the sea as an innkeeper watches from the shore. Miles away in New York City, ornithologist Ana Gathreaux works in a darkened room full of sparrows, testing their migratory instincts. Soon, Ana will be bound for Trachis Island, along with other relatives of victims who converge on the site of the tragedy.
As the search for survivors envelops the island, the mourning families gather at the inn, waiting for news of those they have lost. Here among strangers, and watched over by innkeeper Kevin Gearns, they form an unusual community, struggling for comfort and consolation. A Taiwanese couple sets out fruit for their daughter's ghost. A Bulgarian man plays piano in the dark, sending the music to his lost wife, a cellist. Two Dutch teenagers, a brother and sister, rage against their parents' death. An Iranian exile, mourning his niece, recites the Persian tales that carry the wisdom of centuries.
At the center of Birds in Fall lies Ana Gathreaux, whose story Brad Kessler tells with deep compassion: from her days in the field with her husband, observing and banding migratory birds, to her enduring grief and gradual reengagement with life.
Kessler's knowledge of the natural world, music, and myth enriches every page of this hauntingly beautiful and moving novel about solitude, love, losing your way, and finding something like home.
This brooding novel is a modern-day retelling of the Greek myth of Ceyx and Alcyone. In the eerie first chapter, Russell, a New York ornithologist, is on a flight to Amsterdam when the airplane plunges into the Atlantic near Nova Scotia. The victims' family members, including Russell's wife, Ana, gather near the site on Trachis Island to wait for word from search crews. Their host is Kevin, an innkeeper who witnessed the crash and occupies himself making the anxious guests comfortable. There, the disparate group, a global mix of parents, siblings, spouses and aunts and uncles, begins the difficult work of dealing with the tragedy, with Ana's story at the center, while Kevin, distracted by his duties, grows apart from his partner, Douglas. The protagonists are sympathetic and complex and Kessler, a journalist, children's book writer and novelist (Lick Creek), writes with lyricism, but also with studied seriousness.