Imagine a tree, a bird in the tree, the hills, the creek, a possum, the dog chasing the possum. Imagine yourself a woman who gathers stories in her apron.
Crystal Wilkinson’s novel The Birds of Opulence visits familiar themes I’ve encountered in her short stories. There are familiar names and places, also. She weaves them all into a story of four generations of women who live in Opulence, Kentucky along with a friendship between the youngest of those four generations and a girl who has difficulty feeling she belongs in Opulence even though she grows up there.
Wilkinson scatters the novel with the joy of the mountain landscape, the pleasantry of singing birds and the celebratory nature of the community’s church picnic known as Dinner on the Grounds. These happy details are not a facade. They are real and alive.
At the same time, the joy melds with the haunting presence of mental illness and the dark spectre of racial, social and cultural prejudice. These aspects of the story are very real, also.
Wilkinson’s brilliance is her ability to bring both together without one dismissing the other. The tragic ending doesn’t displace the laughter, but the laughter doesn’t cover up the tragedy.
I’ll sum everything up by saying “Go and read this novel!”