Book Review: 'Crow Talk' provides a path for healing in a meditative and hopeful novel on grief

Crows have long been associated with death, but Eileen Garvin’s novel “Crow Talk” offers a fresh perspective; creepy, dark and morbid becomes beautiful, wondrous and transformative.

“Crow Talk” provides a path for healing in a meditative and hopeful novel on grief, largely set in secluded Beauty Bay on idyllic Lake June. It's where Frankie spent the long summer days of her childhood, where she first learned to listen to birds and began her lifelong pursuit of studying them with her handy field book of Pacific Northwest birds — a gift from her beloved father — always at her side.

Now she’s well past the field guide and working on her master’s thesis. But between problems at school, her mother’s icy distance, and no longer being able to confide in her father and get his advice, Frankie is adrift. She seeks refuge at the family's little cabin in the Washington woods.

Meanwhile, Anne is dealing with her own loss. Finding herself unable to write music and on leave from her teaching job, she goes with her husband and their son for a late-season stay at their cabin on Beauty Bay. There, they nervously await the results from a study on their 5-year-old, Aiden, who has mysteriously stopped talking.

Doors begin to open when Frankie takes in an injured crow, drawing Aiden and Anne's intrigue. Their crow talk could be the catalyst they need for growth and healing.

The novel begins like a meditation, bringing you to a calm place and gently pulling you back when the thoughts of the narrator start to drift. It’s a strange way to kick things off — very little is happening — but it’s soothing. The way the lake looks and sounds, the movements of mundane morning tasks, are intercut with memories that eventually expose the roots and depths of Anne's and Frankie’s predicaments. Unready to face their sorrow and unable to share their grief, it’s not until almost halfway in that Frankie and Anne finally reveal exactly what they’re mourning.

Flipping between the three, Aiden's chapters are the most beautiful and intriguing. The short, often mythical interpretations of what’s going on around him draw on his beloved fairy tale book, offering a peek into the way he sees himself and the world, drawing comparisons between Aiden and the crows.

Like Aiden, crows are incredibly smart and have a lot to say, if only we could understand them.

The author freely mixes fiction and reality, like the made-up June Lake at the foot of the real Mount Adams in Washington. She also writes from experience, inspired by her own childhood lake house and forest adventures. Garvin's sister, Margaret, was diagnosed with autism, and the secluded cabin provided her and her family some comfort. This personal experience shines in the love and care for Aiden’s character, who is written as more than his diagnosis and always fully human and capable.

“Crow Talk” is a study of grief, friendship, and navigating loss; a cottagecore book that is at once cozy reading and emotionally challenging. Garvin rewards readers with an uplifting ending for a uniquely comforting novel.


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