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Daniel Meier
No Birds Sing Here
In this indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time, two young pseudo-intellectuals, BECKMAN and MALANY, set out on an odyssey to define the artistic life, and in doing so, unleash a barrage of humorous, unintended consequences. NBSH is a multi-layered novel about a Post-Modernist America in which characters are struggling to survive in an increasingly chaotic world. Beckman and Malany’s journey reflects the allegorical evolution of humanity from its primal state, represented by Beckman’s dismal life as a dishwasher to the crude, medieval development of mankind in a pool hall, and then to the false but erudite veneer of sophistication of the academic world—all demonstrated in the embodiment of the characters they meet along the way. The world these protagonists live in is a world without love. It has every other variety of human drive and emotion, but love. Do they know it? Not yet. And they won’t until they figure out why no birds sing here.
In this humorous rebuke of faux intellectualism, two misguided individuals set out on a journey to discover what it means to be an artist. Beckman is a wannabe author and psychokinetic who spends his time re-reading his own work, dreaming about the future, and causing trouble. Malany is a poet with manufactured success who maintains a devoted asceticism, abstaining from all forms of excess. Both are fleeing their former lives: Beckman refuses to follow in his lawyer father’s footsteps, while Malany avoids her doting, wealthy husband. The two embark on a transcontinental odyssey, pretending to be established writers in small towns across the U.S. From disapproving rednecks to shallow and hedonistic academics, the couple encounter a cast of characters as lost as they are, unhappy with their circumstances but unable to transcend them.

Meier (The Dung Beetles of Liberia) has written a scathing satire, a critique of empty artistry. Through Beckman and Malany, he explores the identities of two annoyingly inauthentic people. Although a self-professed writer, Beckman never produces anything throughout the story, waiting for the “right” experience to spark his inspiration. Malany, though devoted to her work, is not the radical she appears to be, hiding her true origins to maintain a façade of independence. Because the two main characters are so self-serious, the book is often funny. Even more minor characters put on airs to an amusing extent: A pool shark’s crafted machismo hides the secret of his sexuality, while a professor’s wife playacts as various literary figures. No one is likeable, which limits the novel’s audience but also seems to be the point.

The prose can be flowery (“He sat on the edge, shivering for a long time, steeped in wordless disgust at his present condition in life”), but with Beckman as the protagonist, the oft-pretentious descriptions play as comic. However, less successful sentences (“He pretended anger, but Herschel, with omnificent impenetrability, looked as insular as a priest who had just performed Mass”) can be choppy and difficult to read. For the most part, however, the satire lands, and the story is fast-paced and thought-provoking.

Takeaway: This satirical novel’s social critique swipes amusingly at writerly pretensions and small towns full of secrets.

Great for fans of: Virginie Despentes's Vernon Subutex, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A-