Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Hummingbird by Stephen Kiernan

In a Nutshell:  Deborah Birch is a gifted hospice nurse experienced in guiding her patients and their families through the struggles of death and dying.  Barclay Reed is a disgraced historian turned ornery old man who has summarily dismissed numerous nurses before turning to Deborah to see him through his final days.  As Deborah struggles to care for the lonely, angry old man who challenges her to read the unpublished manuscript of the book that saw his career go down in flames, she also faces a challenge at home, that of her PTSD-afflicted veteran husband, Michael.  As good as she is at helping those facing the hardest struggle of their lives, it may be that only an angry professor on his death bed can help her reach her husband before it’s too late.

The Good: The professor’s book happens to cover a little-known piece of World War II history (spoiler alert!!!!) that is based on actual events. Though its appearance interrupted the rest of the narrative, the story was a compelling surprise to me. (Okay, that’s all with the spoilers.)  Deborah’s first person narrative of her successes and struggles as a hospice nurse is a unique window on what has to be one of the most difficult yet valuable professions.

The Bad: Deborah occasionally seems like a female character being written by a man, which... she is.  She and her husband’s pet name for each other is “lover” and the way she lusts after her husband comes off very ...male.  Also, I was consistently irritated that she was so attuned to her patients’ needs but so incredibly tone deaf to the “mood in the room” when interacting with her own husband.  Some of Deborah’s experiences in hospice, are bit too textbook-y, as if Kiernan read up on a bunch of manuals about how to practically deal with death and dying and plugged them into his novel in too close to non-fiction format. 

The Verdict: Somehow I’ve now managed to read Stephen Kiernan’s whole catalog so far, and I can tell you that The Hummingbird is my least favorite of the three.  The whole narrative seems a bit wooden at times which kept me from fully engaging with a book that should have been an emotional roller coaster.  The Hummingbird has its high points, but it didn’t feel genuine enough to really reel me in.

Review copy received from the publisher in return for review consideration.

1 comment:

  1. Hm, I have to many books I'm excited about to bother with a so so one so I may skip this one.