By Lisa Snellings & Alan M. Clark

IDF Publishing


254pp/$12.95/June 2022

Night Birds
Cover by Lisa Snellings

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Lisa Snellings and Alan M. Clark are best known as artists, with Snellings a physical artist who created the massive kinetic sculpture installation Dark Caravan, which depicted a gothic carnival, and Clark a painter whose work has graced numerous book covers. Although Clark has written numerous short stories and novels, Night Birds is only Snellings' second foray into fiction, following her short story "Something October," which was inspired by her Dark Caravan work and forms the basis for a late chapter in Night Birds.

Night Birds tells the story of Lucy, a young girl growing up in a small textile town in South Carolina in the 1960s. Coming from a poor family, Lucy never really fit in with many of her classmates and her situation at home doesn't make her life easier. Living with her parents and her half-brother, she is closer to her father than her mother and has a very close relationship with her grandmother, Annie Maude. Lucy's life is a strange mix of Opie Taylor freedom and a gothic tale as she describes visits to her grandmother, who practices various superstitions that may border on actual magic, and the competing version of magic she's introduced to by Ruth, the African-American woman who helps out around her parents' house. When the story opens, Lucy also discovers the ghost of a young girl, Penny, who seems to live beneath her house.

Interspersed with scenes of daily life in the south of the 1960s: going to school, sneaking out with friends, making new friends, family picnics, and dealing with half siblings, Lucy begins to learn that the world is filled with dark secrets, whether they concern who a person is, what a person has done, or the unspoken ordeals every family has. Penny's continued peripheral presence also indicates that real magic does exist in the world in which Lucy is living, not just in her overactive imagination. She also begins to realize that no matter how safe her father might try to keep her, there is always danger, as evidenced in the opening line when the cotton mill's whistle blows at an unusual time to indicate an accident, or a strange man dressed in dark clothing and wearing a fedora who is a sinister and unexplained presence as Lucy grows up.

Lucy is an engaging character and while she moves through a world that is at times creepy and supernatural, she is grounded by her close relationships with her father, Annie Maude, and Ruth, even when other relationships, including with her Mama, are more tenuous. With the majority of the novel covering the eight years from 1963 to 1971, Snellings and Clark show Lucy's growth and expand her understanding of the world around her. As she grows older, she is able to interpret her experiences better and occasionally he sudden understanding of what was happening to her causes her to become more mature faster thatn she perhaps should.

A jump in time from 1971 until 1997 allows the authors to look at how Lucy's experiences as a young girl impacted her and how she has dealt with the emotional baggage over the years. This final section of the book incoporates Snellings' earlier story, "Something October," wth some changes to bring it more in line with Lucy's earlier life story. Although Lucy thinks she has put a lot of the stranger aspects of her past behind her, they do show up in her creative work as well as in a chance encounter, opening chapters of her life she through were closed so she could understand herselve in a way that the readers already do.

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