Author Adam Novy
Things You Might Like
- The delicious villainy of Judge Griggs
- The descriptions of bird shows
- The eccentricity of all of the characters and settings
- Very, very good character arcs
- The binding!
Things You Might Not Like
- Trying to figure out where the hell the story takes place
- Stylistic lack of quotation marks
Novy’s The Avian Gospels is a surrealistic war and religion allegory that scores on all levels. All around solid, a great example of what can be done with a war story.
5 out of 5 Gypsy Ska Bands
The old adage is that we should never judge a book by its cover—because, I don’t know, someone a long time ago read a copy of Don Quixote that had two blank white sheets of paper stapled together as a cover. But with The Avian Gospels, the binding deserves a mention—and since it’s not entirely relevant to the writing itself, I wanted to get it out of the way at the forefront:
The Avian Gospels has outstanding binding. The book looks like it’s a Bible, and I got many half-started conversations from well-meaning Christians while reading it in public.
Now that that discussion’s out of the way: Adam Novy’s The Avian Gospels takes place in a city ruled by a tyrannical Judge, situated in between China, Hungary, Angola, and Oklahoma. That is to say: don’t bother trying to figure out where the setting is: it’ll just distract you from the story.
After a long, costly war with Hungary, ‘peace’ reigns among the city. The wealthy and powerful have moved into the countryside, leaving the urban areas to turn into slums populated by Norwegians, aka Gypsies. The redheaded population takes the place of every downtrodden ethnic group in Novy’s story, and the author has no qualms about making their lives miserable.
As the meat of the novel begins, a father—Zvominir—and his son—Morgan—are eking out a living in the city by using their (some say) God-given gift to control birds to create ‘bird shows,’ large-scale interpretive art made up of birds of every color and size. See, seventeen years after the disastrous conflict with neighboring Hungary, swarms and hordes of birds have covered the city in what is occasionally referred to as a
As they do so, the Judge and his army, the RedBlacks, are marching around, torturing the Gypsies at will for not much in particular. It so happens that the Judge’s son, Mike, an aspiring RedBlack with a particularly violent nature, is the outright nemesis of Morgan and, one day, after the two have a fight in the city, leading to Mike’s humiliation, RedBlacks are dispatched to torture Morgan and his father.
Being the sorts of people who believe that everyone of one ethnic group looks the same as everyone else in that community—though Morgan and Zvominir are Swedes, they are ethnic enough to be seen as Gypsies—the RedBlacks apply their general method of finding information: Torturing everyone in sight.
As they do so, the RedBlacks end up slaughtering Morgan’s pet swans, who live in the fountain in the plaza where he and his father perform bird shows for onlookers. This action, as you may expect, does not go over really well with Morgan and Zvominir.
Morgan is driven to the underground Gypsies, who are just boiling over with a desire to upend the social caste system of the city and start a revolution—which, in turn, leads to conflict with his father, who believes that the only way for the two of them to live a normal life is to assimilate with the Judge and his ilk.
And thus begins a war led by a teenage boy who a population sees as a prophet at the least, godhead at the most. And so begins the plot of The Avian Gospels.
Make no mistake, this is a strange novel. The good kind of strange—before you start getting ideas that this is too weird to read. It’s not. Not by a long shot. But it is strange enough to keep the reader wondering just where the hell this place, this city is—and where all the damn birds came from.
It’s the mysterious sort of bizarre; it’s the sort of thing that keeps a novel from turning into just a war story. That’s not to say that Novy is attempting to make some grand Point about the nature of humanity, because I don’t think he is. What could be a Point is something fairly obvious and best said by Nietzsche:
When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.
Pretty basic stuff, philosophically. There is gray moral ground in this novel, make no mistake of that. Characters do change, and they’re given time to do so in a very short space, without making it seem rushed. That’s a very good thing, this sort of pacing, and without it, the Avian Gospels would turn into something that’s easily relegated to an attempt at being heady.
But by far the book’s strongest selling point is the way Novy creates a so utterly despicable villain in the Judge. Yes, the character is a tool to illustrate all of the horrible things about human nature, and the lengths to which people in power will go to control power, but there’s something so amazing about seeing such insanity. It’s almost like that scene in A Clockwork Orange.
[Editor’s Note: Aaron wanted to embed the Singing In The Rain scene from the Kubrick film, but we said no. He insisted on there being a video, so here’s one of a cat barking.]
Novy handles such depravity and violence with a deft hand, and the bizarre, not-quite-believable descriptions of the violence, and of reactions to the violence, aren’t so unbelievable. After all, this is a book about inconceivable amounts of birds flocking down to a city in the middle of countries that are, in reality, on separate continents.
So what’s the big deal about the book—aside from the violence, because you can get the same amount of destruction and death in any Rambo movie—huh? Why do I think this book was fun to read, even when I spent the time outside the book trying to figure out the setting?
Well, because make no mistake: It’s very well written. There’s music in Novy’s prose. There’s a certain cadence to the violence that makes it seem like you’re reading a Shostakovich symphony—and dear God, that sentence shouldn’t make sense, but it does.
One big thing I’m not sure about—and this might just be because I’m a stupid person—is why this is referred to as a gospel. Anyone have suggestions?
Buy, Rent, or Pirate? Buy this book from Amazon now. [NOTE: Bullet Reviews does not condone piracy. Aaron Simon is quite mad. And, frankly, if you pirate, may birds peck out your eyes.]
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