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Summary and book reviews of Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Starling Days

by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan X
Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
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  • Published:
    Apr 2020, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

The moving new novel by the author of Harmless Like You, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice and NPR Great Read.

On their first date, Mina told Oscar that she was bisexual, vegetarian, and on meds. He married her anyhow. A challenge to be met. She had low days, sure, but manageable. But now, maybe not so much...Mina is standing on the George Washington Bridge late at night, staring over the edge, when a patrol car drives up. She tries to convince the policeman she's not about to jump, but he doesn't believe her. Oscar is called to pick her up.

With the idea of leaving New York for London—a place for Mina "to learn the floorplan of this sadness"—Oscar arranges a move. In London, Mina, a classicist, tries grappling with her mental health issues by making lists. Of WOMEN WHO SURVIVED—Penelope, Psyche, Leda. Iphigenia, but only in one of the tellings. Of things that make her HAPPY—enamel coffee cups. But what else? She at last finds a beam of light in Phoebe, and friendship and attraction blossom until Oscar and Mina's complicated love is tested.

A gorgeously wrought novel, variously about love, mythology, mental illness, Japanese beer, and the times we need to seek out milder psychological climates, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan's Starling Days—written in exquisite prose rich with lightly ironic empathy—is a complex and compelling work of fiction by a singularly gifted young writer.

Chapter 1
August

She wasn't expecting the bridge to shudder. It was too big for trembling. Cars hissed from New York to New Jersey over its wide back. That August had been hot, 96° Fahrenheit hot. Heat softened the dollar bills and clung to the quarters and dimes that passed from sticky hand to sticky hand.

It was night and the air had cooled but humidity still hung in a red fog in Mina's lungs. Wind galloped over the Hudson, pummeling the city with airy hooves. The bridge shifted, the pylons swayed, and Mina closed her eyes to better feel her bones judder. Even her teeth shook. The day's sweat shivered between her bare shoulder blades. The tank top felt too thin, and the down on her arms rose. She took a step forward along the bridge. The tender spots between her big and index toes were sore from too many days in flip-flops. She took the sandals off. They swung from her fingers as she walked. Under her feet, the rough cement was warm. She wondered about the people driving their ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

As the characters explore new feelings and dip into uncomfortable emotional spaces, Buchanan questions conventional beliefs around issues of mental illness, sexuality and relationships, opting to portray their thoughts sensitively and without the weight of standard foregone conclusions. While Starling Days is filled with sad moments, it's far from a tragedy. It isn't a "feel-good" read either, but one that allows human emotions and wants, in all their disarray, to mingle coherently on the page. The result is a morally complex story driven by elaborately drawn characters who are mesmerizing despite (or because of) their fragility...continued

Full Review Members Only (804 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
There are indications that Buchanan is a better writer than this work would suggest...But they are overshadowed by the novel’s weaker elements. For readers looking for a 'relatable' tale of struggle and survival – the author includes an encouraging note at the end for those fighting their own darkness – the book offers consolation. For those wishing to derive more literary pleasures, Starling Days may disappoint.

Ms. Magazine
Buchanan's second novel tenderly explores mental illness, bisexuality, connection, love and loss. This is an original, poetic and striking literary triumph.

Publishers Weekly
[B]leak and eloquent...Readers willing to brave the darkness will find a worthy, nuanced portrait of a woman's struggle for self-determination amid mental illness.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Poetic and understated, this nuanced work by Buchanan (Harmless Like You, 2017) also addresses adult-child relationships, the legacy of family trauma, and the challenge of offering unconditional love. Complex and resonant.

Paris Review, most anticipated titles of 2020
An exquisite rendering of love, sadness, and misunderstanding...I want to share this book with everyone I know.

Author Blurb T. Kira Madden, author of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
Starling Days is unlike anything I've ever read. Both quiet and scorching, this is a story about mental health, desire, and the myriad mythologies we both build and destroy. Rowan Hisayo Buchanan has offered us another supreme gift of a novel, a rare opportunity to love and forgive our darkest and most shimmering selves.

Author Blurb Elaine Castillo, author of America Is Not the Heart
Starling Days a beautiful and profoundly moving "floor plan" of what it means to live with depression and dailiness, love and death, solitude and connection.

Author Blurb Sharlene Teo, author of Ponti
A singular novel from the poetic and painterly mind of Rowan Hisayo Buchanan.

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Beyond the Book

"Women Who Survived" from Classical Mythology

In Starling Days, Mina mulls over an idea for an academic work that she dubs "The Women Who Survived." Her starting point is a list of female characters in classical mythology who survive the stories in which they appear. She observes that most women in Greek and Roman myths are ultimately killed or transformed in some way, and that few emerge "alive and intact." Below are four of the mythological survivors on her list.

Penelope

Painting of Penelope weaving surrounded by suitors Penelope is the wife of Odysseus, king of Ithaca. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War, leaving Penelope in Ithaca with their son Telemachus. When Odysseus has not returned years after the war ended, he is presumed dead. Suitors swarm the palace hoping for Penelope's hand in ...

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