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Sons Of the Bird

Sons of The Bird, Laurence Chatham, Varinoma Press, 1997, San Luis Obispo, hardcover. Reviewed by Nathan Childers in the S.D. Sheepherder's Quarterly.


Laurence Chatham is one of our promising new authors. For example, he promised me dinner if I would write a good review. I'll try but it's going to be hard. Let me merely say that Laurence has a writing style that is seldom seen in published works.

Sons of The Bird is, or may be, a horror novel. On the other hand it is or may be a study in delusional psychopathy. The uncharitable might claim that this is because the author was hopelessly confused about what the novel was about. Those of us who hope to dine well claim that it is a brilliant example of post-modern ambiguity. It does seem odd, however, that it was packaged as a children's book.

The title refers to a short story by Robert Heinlein. In the story the universe was first created in a different form which was dominated by a cruel and vicious deity, The Bird. It was sloppily painted over by the universe crafter to yield the universe as we know it. The workmanship was poor and traces of the prior universe show through. The Sons of the Bird are halfway creatures who are trying to restore the prior universe.

The main story line concerns the psychoanalytic sessions between a psychoanalyst named Dr. Samuel Berkowitz and his patient (if he is a patient) known only as Lord Raven. The sessions are portrayed in a rather ambiguous way so that it is not entirely clear whether Berkowitz is analyzing Lord Raven or whether Berkowitz is being tortured by Lord Raven. This ambiguity may be intentional. If Raven is the patient then he suffers from the delusion that he an agent of the Sons of the Bird. If he is not then Berkowitz is being prepared as a propitiary sacrifice to the Bird. Presumably the dream sequence with the little red choo-choo train is supposed to indicate which interpretation is correct. Unfortunately your reviewer is at a total loss to explain why the scene is in the book at all. This is particularly vexing since the scene takes up half the book. One is loath to speculate that it was added at the publishers insistence.

Perhaps the most disturbing theme in the book is the Easter Egg motif. There is a suggestion that Ukrainian Easter Eggs, those delightful pieces of folk art, are icons of The Bird. The thesis is ridiculous at first and then is increasingly (and queasily) more convincing over the course of the book, culminating in the horrific Hatching of the Egg scene. On the other hand the scene may simply be a nightmare induced by the consumption of a bad egg salad sandwich.

Lord Raven's apparent conviction that he, himself, was hatched from a Ukrainian Easter Egg is also ambiguously treated. One is left wondering: Did Berkowitz actually accept this belief or was he practicing participative fantasy therapy? For that matter it is not entirely clear who is the patient.

This book can be recommended to anyone who wishes to acquire the complete collected works of Laurence Chatham.


This page was last updated October 4, 1997.