I will be perfectly honest; when I first opened the envelope containing the review copy of Tom Gallant’s The Lord God Bird and saw the title of the book, I may have and likely in fact did utter something along the lines of “Oh no, not another Ivory-billed Woodpecker book.” However having now read it cover to cover, which I did almost uninterruptedly – so strong was the grip of its narrative upon me – I am very pleased to admit just how unjustified my initial exclamation about it was.
Not a work of natural history at all but rather a novel, The Lord God Bird is a delightful tale written in a superbly spare and grounded style that so ideally fits its plot, its setting, and its main characters that one cannot help comparing it to such works as John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row or John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield War. It must be noted, of course, that the comparison is further encouraged by the author’s employment of magical realism – the incorporation of super-natural elements into an otherwise realistic story – in the telling of his tale.
The plot of the story centers around one man – the name of whom is never disclosed (a stylistic device that serves to add an element of Everyman to him) – whose family roots go deep in the flooded southern forest that was also once the ancestral home of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. A true product of the land upon which his family has long lived, the man lives in harmony with his surroundings to a degree that few today now do and as a result is one day given a glimpse into one of the forest’s deepest secrets.
The astute reader will likely be able to guess as to what this secret might relate; however it is where Mr. Gallant takes his story next that makes the tale the thoroughly captivating one that it is. Rather than become an expansive story of “chasing rarities” or a pious Jeremiad upon the decline of a habitat area and the species it supports, The Lord God Bird is a very close and personal tale of loss and discovery that, I am not ashamed to say, at one point brought more than a single tear to the eyes of this cynical old reviewer.
As the publisher of The Lord God Bird, Quantuck Lane Press, is not a large publishing house, it might not be a book that will be readily found on the shelves of your local bookseller. If you don’t see a copy, please ask that it be ordered for you (Quantuck titles are distributed by W.W. Norton & Company and are thus easily obtainable by booksellers); you will be very glad you did.