Miles and Travis are chatting in the living room: two cousins who’ve been apart over a year. The whole first chapter of Dirty Bird highlights their re-connection, and at first glance, one might expect this healthy kind of kinship from a book set in PEI. We soon discover two important details, though: Miles is dead and Travis is schizophrenic. These are some of many reasons to be concerned with their version of reality.
Dirty Bird is Keir Lowther’s first published novel, and although he has the strange connection of being Lucy Maud Montgomery’s first cousin’s great grandson, the coming-of-age story he’s written is far from self-assuring. It follows drop-outs, runaways, adulterers, alcoholics, the bullied and the undermedicated. When these characters reach out to their loved ones, they aren’t offering enough.
This story is impressively crafted. With narration that shifts focus from character to character, events overlap, and it feels like Lowther has reached every corner, barely missing a spec of detail. Only one chapter out of 19 feels tedious. The rest are piled with beached jellyfish, nude Polaroids, misplaced blame, and in one case, a kid who’s blind to every tragedy involved in adulthood.
Still, there are serene moments in the book that breathe clean air into its dirty pages. But it’s the dirty moments that earn Lowther his ribbon; his ability to make small town tragedies new again, and make innocence unnerving, and his knack for writing about an off-kilter family from a tiny island out east that leaves us feeling bad on the inside. (Colin Brush)