Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Book review: "The Bird and The Fish: Memoir of a Temporary Marriage" by Miriam Valmont

The title of this book is a striking image appropriate to its two protagonists.  Imagine a swimming fish looking up to see a bird, and a bird flying low over water looking down to see a fish.  Unable to join each other for more than a brief interval, they must live most of their lives in mutually incompatible mediums.  And yet, they make a concerted effort to see each other quite clearly.

This book is a page-turner--I felt gripped by the story and wanted to know what would happen next--but I could not read it quickly.  I regularly felt a need to step back and mull.  In the end, the narrative held together under constant scrutiny, despite its startling premise which I sometimes wanted to reject, in part because of its unusual delving into the murky waters of the human need for connection and affiliation.

The story is not all about grand themes; it works for me on many levels, exploring differences of nationality, religion, culture, political system, gender, parenting, and aging.  In particular, it challenges the concept of marriage and singleness in American society.  And it deals openly with an aspect of life that we mostly try to ignore--the fleeting temporariness of everything, including life itself.   The surprising thing is that there could be any useful communication at all between our two protagonists, yet their imperfect but determined relationship rang true repeatedly despite all my almost-objections.  I was left understanding that  labels for relationships, intimate or otherwise, may be too simplistic and limiting, and that there can be value in pushing  beyond the simplicities of labels to experience the full richness of life.  It is also a hopeful message, because both protagonists were able to overcome the stereotypical expectations placed upon them while remaining within the plausible and believable.  It is a delicate balancing act that I can only admire.

Read this book.  You may think you don't want to, but you do.  And you won't be sorry.