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The Bird Saviors

by William J. Cobb

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4512492,289 (3.71)5
When a dust storm engulfs her Colorado town and pink snow blankets the streets, a heartbreaking decision faces Ruby Cole, a girl who counts birds: She must abandon her baby or give in to her father, whom she nicknames Lord God, and marry a man more than twice her age who already has two wives. She chooses to run, which sets in motion an interlocking series of actions and reactions, upending the lives of an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, a disabled war vet, Nuisance Animal destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist--a field biologist studies the decline of bird populations.… (more)
  1. 00
    Rut by Scott Phillips (juniperSun)
    juniperSun: Both deal with western US after an economic collapse. Both have a character who is a lone scientist studying a declining animal population. Both have characters who are religious zealots.

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If you're looking for a novel to read while the government is in the midst of this sequester craziness (since it looks like this is going to happen), you're in the right place.

Don't leave yet, though, because this book? Is fantastic and absolutely well worth the read, sequester or fiscal cliff or political shenanigans be damned.

Actually, there's a bit of damnation involved in The Bird Saviors, come to think of it.

The Bird Saviors is set in modern-day Colorado in a seemingly not-too-distant future (maybe closer than author William J. Cobb thought) marked by a confluence of high unemployment, food and fuel shortages, extreme climate change and dust storms, illegal immigration, mysterious avian-borne viruses similar in scale to HIV/AIDS, and religious zealots.

One of those is 17 year old Ruby Cole's father, whom she has appropriately nicknamed Lord God. He's a proud but grumpy veteran of a war in the Middle East, who is now

"out of work and has given up looking for more. He lives off disability [he has a prosthetic leg] but its hardly a living. He preaches now at the Lamb of the Forsaken Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints. His congregation is mostly lost souls and the lonely, living hand to mouth." pg. 11

At 17, Ruby is already a mother of a toddler. They live with Lord God, who watches baby Lila while Ruby goes to school and spends her leisure time counting birds (most of which are on the verge of extinction). She gives the birds made-up names - Smoke Larks, Grief Birds, Squeakies, Moon Birds.

Early on in The Bird Saviors, William J. Cobb introduces his reader to a memorable cast of characters that includes

"an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, Nuisance Animal [Control] destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist who is studying the decline of bird populations. All the while, a growing criminal enterprise moves from cattle-rustling to kidnapping to hijacking fuel tankers and murder, threatening the entire community." (from the book jacket cover)

I honestly hadn't heard of The Bird Saviors before seeing it on my library's new books shelf and I believe it's one of the best books you've probably not heard too much about, either. I haven't seen it reviewed on many of the book blogs. (Then again, I'm rather behind on my blog reading.) Powerfully haunting, the writing and symbolism are fantastic throughout the course of the entire novel. You wonder how Cobb is possibly going to connect all these wayward characters- because you know their lives are too quirky not to intersect, as they do, briefly, in the beginning.

But it is in the vivid descriptions of this desert landscape, and the counting of the birds, and the saving of the ones that are rare and injured, where Cobb's skill as an author truly shines. The birds become a stand-in for our own fragility and how we all need some saving from the people we encounter in our lives - our loved ones and strangers alike - and sometimes, even ourselves.

Sometimes, as Ruby and some of the other well-developed characters discover in The Bird Saviors, we find someone else who is also similarly injured, just as broken, who can help save us as we make our way through a scary and uncertain world.

"Ward watches a murder of Crows flap and squawk past the yard, diving and swooping at the wide wings of a Red Tailed Hawk. The hawk glides and beats its wings, fades into the tan sky.

Ward takes these sighting as a good sign, as a sign of hope. Ruby has told him about her conversation with Lord God. Now the blades of hope and faith turn in Ward's head like a windmill. Too often faith is the word preachers use to ask for money. When he questioned the idea of a benevolent God who would let so many suffer and let his daughter die in pain, he was told the Lord works in mysterious ways. That he had to have faith. That he had to let go of his earthly hopes and dreams and put his soul in the hands of the Lord, who would reward him with everlasting life.

Ward can never lose the suspicion that the reward of blind faith is blindness.

Hope is a smaller, more reliable thing. You don't have to bank on the idea of a supreme being to hope for a better day, for Lila not to come down with the fever, for Ruby to keep a shelter over her head, for rain to come in the summer, as it has in the past. Faith is a shield, an excuse, an alibi.

Hope is something you can carry in your pocket. Something you can give to others. Something you can act on." (pg. 285-286)

Do yourself a favor. Sequester yourself for awhile with this one. ( )
  bettyandboo | Apr 2, 2013 |
The Short of It:

When religion and love collide, what’s left?

The Rest of It:

When I first came across this book, the summary focused on the presence of a bird flu or some other phenomenon which was killing birds off over time. Me, being the doomsday lover that I am, quickly snatched it up thinking it was another end-of-the-world book which I seem to have a fondness for. About a quarter of the way through, I realized it was most definitely NOT that, but there was something about it that kept me reading.

In a small Colorado town, Ruby finds herself living at home with her father while taking care of her baby, Lily. At the age of seventeen, Ruby is young and without a husband so when her father, Lord God tells her that he plans to marry her off to a much older man, Ruby makes a difficult decision and leaves home to avoid marriage to a man she doesn’t love.

There are shades of the future in this story in that there is a bird flu and people are falling ill with fever, but the book itself is really about broken and damaged people. Small town, small town life. Wretched people and good folks. Lord God is a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so he has strong feelings regarding what a family should be and how Ruby should be raising her daughter. The mere presence of Lord God is rather disturbing at first. He literally looms over young Ruby when you first meet him, but his interactions with the baby show a different side, which in my opinion made him much more likable.

Much of the book focuses on Lord God and Ruby and the wife that left him because of his religious beliefs but there are other characters in the book with their own stories and when they all come together, as stories taking place in a small town typically do, I can’t say I was disappointed.

As far as plot, there wasn’t a whole lot going on but the characters were so unique and the dialogue between them was really quite well done. By the end of the book, I felt as if I knew these characters pretty well, given the short time I spent with them.

The Bird Saviors is slightly dark with plenty of dysfunctional characters. If you enjoy books by Cormac McCarthy I think you’ll enjoy this one too. I found it to be a compelling read.

Note from Ti: Now that the book is out, I see that many of the websites I viewed earlier have adjusted their summaries to be more in line with what it’s really about.

For more review, visit my blog: Book Chatter. ( )
  tibobi | Jul 24, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Bird Saviors by William J. Cobb artfully blends the desolate enchantment of the desert lands of Southern Colorado with a cast of colorful down-and-out characters who find their lives subtly intertwining on the brink of what promises to be either the next big depression or the beginning of the end.

In a near-future ravaged by an alarming bird-flu pandemic and economic turmoil, a seventeen-year-old single mother finds her religious father trying to wed her off to Hiram Page, a shady pawn shop owner with two wives. She decides to take her destiny into her own hands and finds a job counting birds for a grieving, widowed ornithologist. Throughout the book, various other characters touch their lives in one way or another, including a vigilante Arapaho, Hiram Page's criminal counterparts, a scorned bride, and a shoddy police officer.

Overall, while the plot moves a little slowly, the character's true motives and intentions are gloriously revealed during the books final, well deserved climax. It's a story worth sticking out to the end. ( )
  TiffanyHickox | Jun 18, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Gripping read about people dealing with the uncertainties of life in a ecopocalyptic world rife with drought, disease and uncertainty. The story follows several groups of people as their stories parallel and intersect, but centers mainly on Ruby, a 17-year-old single mother, who lives at home with her baby & her father: a one-legged one-eyed war vet turned preacher who is fierce in both his faith, his opinions and his love for his family. This character in particular repeatedly surprised me, and I love that. There is a really great cast of characters in this book, including a horse-cop on the right side of the law, a brutish Arapaho who falls in love, a lonely ornithologist and a sleazy polygamist pawn-shop owner who rules the town. Great story, great characters, and wonderful writing to boot. ( )
  eenerd | Jun 6, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a very elegantly written short novel set in the not too distant future. Economic uncertainty, immigrant wars and crippling climate changes set the background for this character-driven story. The main character is a young girl with a baby and a domineering father she calls Lord God. I think she is the bird in the title and she has to save herself. ( )
  jjm2004 | May 28, 2012 |
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The government killed more than 2.7 million "nuisance" animals last year, including starlings, troublemaking birds that destroy crops and contaminate livestock feed. Also killed were wild turkeys and chickens, black bears, coyotes and wolves. The animals were mainly killed because they threatened livestock, crops or people in airplanes...The largest number of animals killed--2.3 million--were starlings...Critics say the poison used also kills owls, hawks, magpies, raccoons, and cats. New York Times, 11 September 2005
Look out the window. And doesn't this remind you of when you were in the boat? And then later that night, you were lying, looking up at the ceiling, and the water in your head was not dissimilar from the landscape, and you think to yourself, "Why is it that the landscape is moving, but the boat is still?" Jim Jarmusch, Dead Man
Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added. So with Solomon: first he asked wisdom, and God gave it to him, and with it every desire of his heart; even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of Heaven only in part. Joseph Smith
For Elizabeth and Lili
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Lord God is talking again.
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When a dust storm engulfs her Colorado town and pink snow blankets the streets, a heartbreaking decision faces Ruby Cole, a girl who counts birds: She must abandon her baby or give in to her father, whom she nicknames Lord God, and marry a man more than twice her age who already has two wives. She chooses to run, which sets in motion an interlocking series of actions and reactions, upending the lives of an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, a disabled war vet, Nuisance Animal destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist--a field biologist studies the decline of bird populations.

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