bluebirds fly is a sprawling and literate psychological thriller in which the relevant question is not “who done it?” but rather, “who is it?”
Reminiscent of works such as John Fowles’ The Magus, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant, bluebirds fly invites the reader to experience the lives of people they have never known and who seem at first quite alien, but with whom they will eventually realize they have much in common. Summary: Christina McKloskey avoids her famous-conductor father’s shadow by posing as performance artist Kim Tree, until she arrives at Seattle’s Hilltop Medical Center in grave condition resulting from an accidental drug overdose. When she makes a miraculous recovery - only to claim she is now one Dr. Rodney Gimbal, an ill-liked and recently-deceased senior surgeon at Hilltop - it sets the stage for a legal and personal battle. Moving through several settings, Rod/Christina finds no peace in this new identity, until encountering transgender musician Stevie Margulies and the remarkable gift of song which has arisen through the synergy of Rod’s memories with Christina’s physiology. That fragile peace is shattered though, when Stevie takes their relationship too far, propelling them both out into a world unsympathetic to their natures. Meanwhile, Dr. Gimbal’s wife Elaine, having walked out on him after decades of frustration, finds herself on an impromptu tour of Asian religious sites under the tutelage of mystic expat named Beryl. When they become separated in a lawless region on the borders of China, Myanmar and Tibet, Elaine’s experience too will enter the realm of life and death. When a vicious hate crime rocks the city, these simultaneous journeys of Rod/Christina and Elaine finally converge amidst the chaos and emotion of a public protest by Seattle’s gender-outlaw community. Pummeled by differing views of truth and reality, each of them must ultimately choose between past and future, fact and belief. How they do so will challenge our definitions of identity and of miracles, proving once again that there is, as Beryl says, “more wisdom in wonder than in all the lessons ever taught, all the books ever written.” Like a grand symphony, bluebirds fly is structured in movements, which here reflect Rod’s unsteady progress from the oblivion of Locked-in Syndrome to a semblance of self-awareness. The First Movement introduces the major themes of the work: Rod’s voice - which we hear in the first person only when circumstances allow him to escape the influence of others and actualize his own singular identity - and his wife Elaine’s tale, a very different journey and life experience which serve as counterpoint and counterweight to his. With each subsequent movement, Rod comes under the influence of other persons, each of whom has their own conception of his identity and usefulness to their own ends. The fifth and final movement, The Chorale, brings the major characters and their themes together in a tightly-meshed polyphony that builds in both pace and emotional volume to reach crescendo and resolution. As its structure is influenced by music, the novel’s rhythm is reflects the cinema: brief scenes, each centered on a different character’s experience alternate and intercut, arousing mystery, contrast and action while granting the reader a clear sense of progress thru this large work. Intertwining the tales of a husband and wife whose separated lives transform into contrasting journeys of unforeseeable discovery, bluebirds fly is a monumental tale of losing everything, and so finding one’s self - in the most unexpected ways.