We Are All Birds: Geoff Gray
Life takes many people on different journeys. Some cannot find their way and others take an unusual path when tragedy strikes, there is nowhere to hide and things spiral out of control. Sheldon Wirth is our narrator for much of the story as he learns the true meaning of friendship, life and living when ending a long-term relationship with a woman named Dafna and learning that his best friend Dent Brown was terminally ill. Dent learned that he has a lethal and rare bone marrow disease. Like some people rather than face the inevitable and lose faith, go for treatment and hope that a cure or remission would be in sight, Dent decides to take an entirely different route. Why not spend my last months and days doing something outrageous, living life to its fullest and almost hiding from the inevitable even though he really can’t. As Dent decides to disappear overseas we learn directly from him in his own voice his feelings, his desires, his emails and his innermost thoughts as he tries to hide the truth from his friends, enjoys the sun, the woman, the alcohol and the surf as he creates his own fictive world of messages and pictures for his friends as they take the journey, or what he wants them to see along with Dent.
Emails flying between Sheldon and another friend named Joel. Gatherings to read his messages they all begin to analyze and read what he is really saying. Do they believe what they read or will anyone see or feel the pain he’s enduring. When at work Sheldon receives a call from a friend named Joel whose conversation about really nothing would irritate anyone. Not being able to cut him off we learn more about Shel, his inability to take a stance and the fact that he is in more than just a dead end job. But, there is much more as we listen to Shel’s own musings about his life and we learn more about his unique rationale related to his relationship with Dafna, Dent and Joel we begin to wonder if he did not create he own utopian world of make believe. Shel’s job is definitely one with no real challenges and when he asks for more responsibility the answer coming from his boss is ridiculous. With Joel constantly on the phone, the lack of maturity that both exude and the fact that both are working at dead end jobs you begin to wonder just when the light bulb will go off and send them both on different paths.
Both Joel and Shel recount many incidents related to people of many different races and you wonder why they feel so against so many. Dent is Shel’s muse, his best friend the ear that listens to him no matter what and he’s no longer there. But, when Shel recounts what happened between him and Dafna he adds in what he perceives as an interlude or you might say a skit in his own mind of how Dent would reveal an untold truth to others and the hilarity attached to it in his own mind. Immature, selfish, not satisfied with life in any way just how will these young people find their own way back to reality, overcome their selfishness and remind themselves of the beauty that friendship, loyalty and love hold within its palms for each one of them?
Every bird is different and each has its own attitude, which aids when needed to be identified. Bird species are different, unique and move, act, sit and fly in their own way. The characters within this novel seem to move, act and react in their own way taking flight, never following the same path and definitely distinct. When trying to differentiate between Joel, Shel, Dafna or even Dent the reader learns to understand that person’s habits, their movements and can pick each one out of a crowd of strangers. We Are All Birds you might say in our own way. Some migrate in the winter, others remain where they are. Some take flight at a moment’s notice while others remain sheltered in their own nests. This novel brings to light what happens when several find themselves looking within themselves to redefine their manhood, find love, redemption and hopefully the key to an inner peace within themselves.
Listen to the voice of Shel as he relates his feelings about his co-workers, their appearances, his job and his feelings about life in general. Making fun of serious situations, mocking others, trying to take hold of grave situations and yet failing, dealing with rejection, the truth behind the breakup with Dafna we wonder when the harsh reality of what he’s doing will set in. Laughing at life, getting high on pot at work, debasing himself and not really caring about others, this self centered, self-absorbed man needs to do more than find redemption he needs to find forgiveness.
Dent’s voice is heard as he in his own way relates the incident between Dafna and Shel which some might say is tragic but he feels is quite hilarious when you think of a man being raped by his girlfriend and the end result. Sad, not funny, but true that finding his way back to his friends maybe he will then be able to deal with what life dealt him. Each character finds the need to you might say sound off on the others one at a time only wanting his/her needs to be addressed and not seeing the other side of any coin.
Throughout the novel Shelf finds himself in different situations that lead the reader to believe that he has many different prejudices that surface within chapter five. Added in this chapter we hear from Denton Brown again who is somewhere in the South Pacific unable to remember when he left Illinois. Dafna thought he left in order to escape his town where his mother’s religiously ways to bully her way on onto the chair of the PTZ and then bully the PTA members. The author then describes more about his neighborhood and the people living there. Added in we learn about Mrs. Brown and Shel’s mom who were rivals plus the importance of prayer to Mrs. Brown. Denton just got tired of everything back home and his neighbors began to alienate themselves from him and he felt out of place. He needed a sense of belonging like we all do and the author relates his story, his feelings and the fact that he ostracized himself not the other way around. Throughout the chapter we learn more about his family, his relationship with both Shel and Joel and life before leaving, learning he was ill and the wild and dangerous things he and the other two did.
Throughout Chapter Six we hear Shel describe his friendship with Denton and they became close friends, why he hated his mom. This entire chapter will enlighten you to the core of why Denton left, his home life, his struggles and why he enjoyed embarrassing them at every turn. We learn that Denton thrived on self-satisfaction as Shel continues to relate his story and we learn more about his travels to the South Pacific. The author flashes back and forth between the past and the present to allow readers to understand Denton his rationale for his behavior and his present situation. Added in we understand that he is not going to live long, Shel hates his job and Joel seems to be worse off than him. Working for his uncle who is a brutal boss he appears to be on his way to a nervous breakdown. Shel is the manager of a security company and hates it and Joel needs to develop some guts. Dent although consumed with his problems is also concerned with Shel, his emails and his behavior. Shel has a warped sense of humor and you wonder sometimes if he ever gives any thought to his words or actions.
Part Two reveals that Shel goes to Mexico and seems more centered and relaxed. Referring to a kidnapping from part one that you can learn more when you read it he seems to be happier for some reason yet still trying to prove something to himself and others.
Each character has definite flaws within his/her personality that comes through when you hear their inner most thoughts and feelings within the chapters devoted to them. Shel seems to greatly shy away from commitment, responsibility or even the fact that he is no longer a young man in his teens, still needing to push away those that care about him, does not want to live up to anyone’s expectations of him and when placed in a role of responsibility caring for young children the incidents describe are more of an adolescent playing pranks than someone taking a group of children on a camping trip. Dent’s viewpoints along with Shel come together in their interesting emails that allow readers to know that without Dent’s friendship or trying to attempt to center Shel he would have trouble expressing any real thoughts at all. Next within a short interlude titled What I Know he proclaims his thoughts about Joel being a racist, goes on to expand why and then declares certain observations about different races making putting him right up there with Joel. His references to black people, gay people and others are quite descriptive and at times some might not find his remarks funny or tasteful at all.
When Dent decides to return to civilization all four friends meet and then the pieces of each person’s life or puzzle just might change. The discussion gets quite heated, their remarks tend to be racist even towards each other as they vent, dive, talk, learn about relationships that changed and hopefully come to terms with who they really are. As they all submerge for a dive something happens that would bring it all into total perspective.
The ending will surprise the reader as it does Shel. The realizations about his life will come face to face with him in a unique and different way. Just what happens to Dent, Shel, Joel and Dafna you have to decide for yourself when you read the final two chapters and hear his final assessment of certain things in his own colorful way. WE ARE ALL BIRDS: interesting title: Where will your flight take you? The author brings to light so many issues about friendship, loyalty, confidence, lack of confidence, poor self-esteem, searching for answers and much more. WE ARE ALL BIRDS! You decide which character you identify with and which one still needs to find his/her way.
Fran Lewis: reviewer