Birds of a Feather

The surprising poignancy of crows (talking or otherwise).

Birds of a Feather

Question: How do you pull off a comic post-apocalyptic novel narrated by a talking crow?

Answer: Brilliant writing.

Kira Jane Buxton’s Hollow Kingdom somehow succeeds, and the 2019 novel was a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor. As Independent reviewer Josh Denslow noted when the book came out, it is very funny, even hilarious at times.

Not only does the narrator, S.T. (short for Shit Turd), have a distinctive voice, the whole book is a dazzling work of art, immersing the reader in an unusual take on the zombie apocalypse.

Long, long ago, in the distant galaxy of childhood, I watched a cartoon called “Heckle and Jeckle,” about two talking magpies, a bird related to crows. This seemed perfectly natural; the chatty birds fit right in with Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, and all the others.

Writing for a much more mature audience, Tana French, in The Searcher, her novel about an American in rural Ireland, mentions crows’ interactions with people on several occasions. And Buxton herself says two crows visit her every day, and she has gotten to know them. In short, while a talking crow still seems farfetched, birds with personalities are less so.

That’s not really the point, though. Like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Hollow Kingdom is a satire using animals to convey something about people. It emerges that the affliction of the MoFos — S.T.’s designation for the humans that other animals call Hollows — was a virus not like Ebola or bird flu, but an addiction that spread through the Internet and screens, an affliction of connectivity.

Those who saw it coming went completely off the grid but couldn’t escape the consequences of a worldwide illness. The book, however, ends on a hopeful note, and Buxton has followed it up with a second novel, Feral Creatures. Both are humorous but very intense. Neither zombie apocalypses nor talking crows are everyone’s cup of tea.

In an interview published in the Kindle edition of Hollow Kingdom, Buxton lists some of her favorite books. Not surprisingly, many, like Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, involve animals. Both of Buxton’s novels are as inventive and as fresh as the Harry Potter tales, and like them, give readers a different view of the world.

Darrell Delamaide is author of the novels The Grand Mirage and Gold.

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