Book Review: ‘Crow Talk’ provides a path for healing in a meditative and hopeful novel on grief

The book “Crow Talk” by Eileen Garvin changes the traditional association of crows with death; what was once eerie, sinister, and macabre becomes lovely, amazing, and transforming.

Crows have long been associated with death, but Eileen Garvin’s novel “Crow Talk” offers a fresh perspective; creepy, dark and morbid becomes beautiful, wondrous and transformative.

“Crow Talk” is a contemplative and optimistic book about loss that is mostly set in the remote Beauty Bay on picturesque Lake June. It offers a way to heal. It’s where Frankie spent her long summer days as a youngster, learning to listen to birds for the first time and embarking on a lifelong study of them with her trusty field guide of Pacific Northwest birds, a gift from her father, by her side.

She is currently working on her master’s thesis and has moved well past the field guide. Frankie is lost, though, because of issues at school, her mother’s cold demeanour, and the fact that she can no longer confide in her father and seek his counsel. The family’s small cottage in the Washington woods becomes her haven.

Anne is coping with her own loss in the meanwhile. Unable to compose music, she takes a leave of absence from her teaching position and visits their cabin on Beauty Bay in the late season with her spouse and their son. There, they are anxiously awaiting the findings of a research on their five-year-old son Aiden, who has abruptly stopped speaking.

When Frankie tends to an injured crow, doors start to open, piqueing Aiden and Anne’s curiosity. Their crow chatter may serve as the necessary impetus for their development and recovery.

The book starts out like a meditation, lulling you into a state of serenity and then slowly bringing you back when the narrator’s thoughts stray. Though not much is occurring, it’s an odd way to start, it’s calming. Memories that finally reveal the causes and scope of Anne and Frankie’s problems are intercut with the sounds and appearance of the lake, as well as the motions of routine morning chores. It’s not until about halfway through that Frankie and Anne finally disclose exactly what they’re grieving, having been unwilling to confront their sadness and unable to communicate their pain.

When comparing the three, Aiden’s chapters are the most exquisite and captivating. Drawing from his cherished fairy tale book, the brief, frequently magical explanations of what’s happening around him provide a glimpse into his worldview and draw parallels between Aiden and the birds.

Crows are extremely intelligent and have a lot to say, much like Aiden. If only we could understand them.

Like the imagined June Lake at the base of the actual Mount Adams in Washington, the author freely blends fact and fantasy. She also writes from personal experience, drawing on her own early exploits in the forest and at the lake cottage. Margaret, Garvin’s sister, was given an autism diagnosis, and the remote cabin offered her and her family some solace. The affection and concern for Aiden’s character, who is portrayed as more than just his diagnosis and is always totally human and capable, come from this personal experience.

“Crow Talk” is a cottagecore novel that is both comforting to read and emotionally taxing. It explores grief, companionship, and surviving loss. Garvin’s tale has a distinctively consoling conclusion that leaves readers feeling uplifted.

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