Kaye Park Hinckley’s new release, a collection of short stories entitled Birds of a Feather, is difficult to categorize and yet one of the most artistic pieces of literature I have read in quite some time. Hinckley has been compared favorably to Flannery O’Connor, but I confess I have not read O’Connor’s works and therefore am unable to make an honest and adequate comparison between the two.
Hinckley’s writing in Birds of a Feather is as diverse as literature can get, though her voice is steady, unique, clever and grabs the reader with fascinating and thrilling hooks almost immediately. Each story followed a theme of sin and redemption, peppered with deep spiritual underpinnings and rich with colorful Catholic heritage and imagery. Hinkley’s use of language is innovative and powerfully descriptive; her writing is one of the most vivid and raw depictions of human character and emotion I have read from any modern piece of literature.
The tales in Birds of a Feather are ones of humanity, with our commonality of brokenness and longing for healing threaded throughout; I am astounded at Hinckley’s ability to accurately capture myriad settings, eras, and cultures: from late nineteenth century high society to stereotypical hillbillies, from modern psychological thrillers to tender romances, Hinckley wrestles with the very real and raw emotions, struggles, and darknesses that plague humanity throughout history and time. She is honest, mingling grief and love, life and death, in nearly every story. I was often left processing each one for hours after I read it; her narratives aren’t clean with happy endings, but rather they depict the complexity of our interminable striving for the good while battling our vices.
Hinckley writes from the perspective of the main character – sometimes in first person, sometimes in third, immersing her words into their very psyches and souls, which is what strips this collection of any cliched and stereotyped categories of fiction. For at least a few of the tales, she echoes Edgar Allan Poe with disturbing brilliance, which both stunned and fascinated me.
Birds of a Feather is not written for the novice or recreational reader; it is not for the faint of heart. It is written for the reader who is self-aware, who thinks and feels deeply, who recognizes the interrelated existence among all of humanity. It tugs at the core of one’s soul, begs for a tear or two, and challenges one’s intellect while breaking down layers of personal and social barriers related to religion, personality, age, gender, culture, and socioeconomic status.
In essence, everything written in Birds of a Feather reminds the reader that everyone has a story, every life has value and purpose, and it is impossible to speculate about another person’s life journey. This realization necessitates an increase in humility and empathy for the united struggle of humanity, the fact that no one is exempt from sin and suffering in this life. And yet we are all beckoned beyond ourselves into a realm of eternal hope and joy. This is the ultimate message of Birds of a Feather.
Copyright 2014 Jeannie Ewing