NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST 2022
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“Gayl Jones’s work represents a watershed in American literature."
Legendary writer Gayl Jones returns with a stunning new novel about Black American artists in exile
Gayl Jones, the novelist Toni Morrison discovered decades ago and Tayari Jones recently called her favorite writer, has been described as one of the great literary writers of the 20th century. Now, for the first time in over 20 years, Jones is publishing again. In the wake of her long-awaited fifth novel, Palmares, The Birdcatcher is another singular achievement, a return to the circles of her National Book Award finalist, The Healing.
Set primarily on the island of Ibiza, the story is narrated by the writer Amanda Wordlaw, whose closest friend, a gifted sculptor named Catherine Shuger, is repeatedly institutionalized for trying to kill a husband who never leaves her. The three form a quirky triangle on the white-washed island.
A study in Black women’s creative expression, and the intensity of their relationships, this work from Jones shows off her range and insight into the vicissitudes of all human nature—rewarding longtime fans and bringing her talent to a new generation of readers.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Apple Books Review: The Birdcatcher
Custom tag: Art, friendship, and attempted murder. In paradise.
In this intoxicating and offbeat story, Gayl Jones asks, “What’s an attempted murder or two between loved ones?” Writer Amanda, her sculptor friend Catherine, and Catherine’s science journalist husband Ernest are living on the island of Ibiza. All would be well…if Catherine would just stop trying to kill Ernest, who keeps taking her back. The questions Jones raises about the trio’s unconventional lives are part of what makes this story—which is told from from Amanda’s point of view—so captivating. With its loose flow and a dash of magical realism, The Birdcatcher provides insights about race, gender, and the relationship between art and mental health.
Jones continues her marvelous run after last year's Pulitzer finalist Palmares with the gloriously demented story of an artist who keeps trying to kill her husband. Amanda Wordlaw, an experimental novelist cum travel writer, accepts an invitation to join her friends Catherine and Ernest Shuger for an extended stay in Ibiza. She's a platonic third for the Shugers, though the locals all assume the three Black Americans are sleeping together. Catherine isn't allowed any sharp objects due to her history of trying to kill Ernest, which limits her sculpture practice—she's working on a mixed-media project called "The Birdcatcher"—and Ernest takes her to a mental hospital whenever she tries to kill him, like the time she snagged a bicycle spoke from a trash heap and attempted to stab him. There's no why, just the what ("You'd think we'd learn by now," Amanda narrates. "But somehow we keep the optimism"). As to the when, clues suggest the early 1980s, and every once in a while a character speaks in the decade's bald vulgarity ("Excuse me, I'm going over here and get a closer look at that piece of ass," a man says to a woman, about another woman, at a party—"It's talking to me"). The racism depicted in the art world is sadly timeless, such as the white artist who tells Catherine it's too bad her culture has no great literature. Jones, implicitly defiant, draws deeply from classic and global literature—a well-placed reference to Cervantes's windmills leaves the reader's head spinning. And like one of Amanda's inventive novels, this one ends on a surprising and playful turn. It ought to be required reading.