Late last night, baby and wife were asleep and I was sitting in a chair next to an old reading lamp lost in a book. It was a hypnotic state, a trance we readers know, when time, space, and body merge into the world of a story. It had been going on that way for a while until, close to midnight, I heard a knock. Two quiet raps. My nerves bucked. I looked over my shoulder for a fevered moment out the window – of a fifth floor apartment – into darkness. No movement, no people or cars on the side street below. I swallowed, blamed the fridge. Still shaking a bit I turned back to the book. Then it came again. Two quiet raps. I stood up. The room seemed to buzz. Air stuck in my throat. I walked over and opened the bedroom door a few inches. From the pitch-black I heard a voice: “Are you coming to bed?”
My wife had a good reason to wonder why I wasn’t in bed and I had a good reason not to be. I was reading All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld. It’s one of those books that can keep you up past midnight while others wonder where you are. It has some of the most frightening and most beautiful passages I’ve ever read in fiction. It’s the best book I’ve read this year.
Wyld has a knack for everything: small details that contain whole worlds, a poetic command of language, characters who breathe and bleed off the page and an Australian landscape so powerfully rendered it’ll give you sunburns. It is breathless reading. She does precisely what we hope would be done with marvelous gifts like hers – dream up a good story, and tell it.
This book is not for the faint of heart. Like one of my favorite books from last year, The Panopticon, Wyld’s young heroine is runaway with a extraordinarily grim and troubled past (and present). In recent weeks the literary community has had an ongoing discussion about trigger warnings and the power of fiction to summon unwanted, traumatic memories. If someday books wear warnings on the cover, All the Birds, Singing might have one. But it is interesting to note that Wyld’s story is itself about the complex, often troubled relationship of trauma to memory. The intricate structure of the narrative serves to illustrate the labyrinth of locked doors and winding architecture of a traumatized mind.
As a bookseller, it’s my responsibility to recommend the right books to the right readers. My tastes tend toward the dark end of the spectrum, so when asked for recommendations apropos of nothing, the list of titles I rattle off usually have a disclaimer. At some point, though, a good book is a good book, and the best books to incorporate human darkness do so to explore, not exploit. I haven’t yet read Wyld’s first book – After the Fire, A Still Small Voice – but from what I gather, she explores trauma there as well. I imagine she does it with the same strength and care she does in her latest. That book, unsurprisingly, singled her out as an author to watch. This book should cancel all doubt. There are, I hope, many more stoires to come from Evie Wyld.