February 2012
A review of

Heatwave and Crazy Birds

by Gabriela Avigur-Rotem

Central Question: Can all of Jewish history fit within a novel about everyday life?
Author's place of birth: Buenos Aires; Author's day job: editor at a publishing house; Protagonist's place of birth: Venice; Protagonist's profession: flight attendant; Approximate number of pages in novel that consist of diary entries: forty-seven; Novel's original language: Hebrew; Novel's translator: Dalya Bilu; Sentence from novel that sounds most like the title of an indie rock album: 'Horses of the heart, go back to your stables'; Representative passage: 'So. Now my clothes hang next to yours, black silk blouses next your Marlboro-Man checked shirts, did you want to be like him?— Perhaps— in any case you deserved to look like him, you, who were a Corvus albus, a white crow, odd man out— how easy to say to a closet full of empty shirts— '

Novels propelled by longing require little in the way of plot. Much of Heatwave and Crazy Birds takes place squarely in a woman's thoughts, turning over details of lonely days in the desert; of the habits of birds in a garden; of historical personages and dead family members who linger, as it were, with equal screen time. But Gabriela Avigur-Rotem's use of commas and em-dashes where sentences typically achieve closure lends the woman's inner life a quivering sense of urgency, and as the woman's place in the world slowly emerges—Loya is the daughter of a Czech-born archaeologist who returns to Israel to inherit a house after years of self-imposed exile—that urgency extends to the story line, which eventually collapses in on itself with the intensity of a whodunit.

One of the wonderful things about this novel is the way it can be both compulsively observant and spatially expansive. Every once in a while it seems as though someone has slit the book's tires, letting descriptions stream unimpeded out of depressurized paragraphs. These are often dark, unrequitable readings of the suburban landscape that recall Anne Sexton: a handbag "vomits" its contents; a group of women with cosmetic masks looks frightening, "like the busts of six Roman emperors"; a keyhole is "like a little girl cut out of darkness."

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Michael Casper

Michael Casper has recently contributed to the Oxford American and the White Review.

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