A perfect painting of a bird might combine frailty of form with strength of flight to give an illusion of life. But if the painter holds the bird too tight it dies. Georgeann Packard combines strength and weakness, image and reality, the frailty of the individual and the strength of the group in her novel Paint the Bird, bringing together an aging preacher losing her faith with a lonely man losing his son, and all the others who are seemingly finding both. These losses began long before the story and waited, like unfinished paintings, for a critical moment to bring them to life. Now both characters balance holding tight with letting go; and the bird, or at least the novel, Paint the Bird, takes flight.
Set in the period between Ash Wednesday and the season of Pentecost, the novel builds images of death, resurrection and renewal into the stories of Sarah, who doesn’t know where she’s going, and Abraham who’s lost sight of where he’s been. It’s a tale of contrasting styles—a churchwoman’s conformity with an artist’s abandon, a husband’s secret betrayal with a son’s uncompromising lifestyle choice, and the refinements of age with unpainted opportunities of youth. In a powerful scene two artists portray the same woman, the author’s word-pictures leaving readers breathless before their art; then the storyline pivots on which image will be chosen to take the stage.
A photograph holds the bird safely still for the painter, but painting from memory’s never the same as truth. In this novel, characters are achingly real and three-dimensional, filled with complex emotions and honest motivations. The reader is invited to share a few steps on their path, just enough to know death, resurrection and renewal, to see the colors behind the black and white of human judgment, and to watch the thin blue line appear where sacrifice turns to forgiveness and moving on.
Disclosure: I was given a free bound galley of this novel by the publisher with a request for my honest review.
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