A Refinery29 “Best New Book to Read in 2021”
A masterful novel illuminating the rich and hidden facets of human character among the residents of a senior residence in Montana—and “a cleansing antidote to the last few years of political and cultural turmoil . . . if you have anything in the way of feelings, this novel will make you weep” (New York Times).
At the deteriorating Pheasant Run, the occupants keep their secrets and sadnesses locked tight behind closed apartment doors. Kind Leo Umberti, formerly an insurance agent, now quietly spends his days painting abstract landscapes and mourning a long-ago loss. Down the hall, retired professor Rydell Clovis tries desperately to stay fit enough to restart a career in academia. Cassie McMackin, on the same floor, has seemingly lost everything—her husband and only child dead within months of each other—leaving her loosely tethered to this world. And a few doors away, her friend, Viola Six, is convinced of a criminal conspiracy involving the building’s widely disliked manager, Herbie Bonebright. Cassie and Viola dream of leaving their unhappy lives behind, but one woman’s plan is interrupted—and the other’s unexpectedly set into motion—when a fire breaks out in Herbie’s apartment.
Called to investigate is the city’s chief fire inspector. With a gift and a passion for sorting out the mysteries of flame, Lander Maki finds the fire itself, and the circumstances around it, highly suspicious. Viola has disappeared. So has Herbie. And a troubled teen, Clayton Spooner, was glimpsed fleeing the scene. In trying to fit together the pieces of this complicated puzzle, Lander finds himself learning more than expected about human nature and about personal and corporate greed as it is visited upon the vulnerable.
Beautifully written and long awaited, from a writer “with extraordinary emotional acuity and with a keen sense of the small detail that says it all” (Chicago Tribune), Aviary weaves a compelling tapestry of crisis, grief, and the mysteries of memory and old age.
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Praise and Prizes
“Even when it hurts — and, if you have anything in the way of feelings, this novel will make you weep — Aviary is a cleansing antidote to the last few years of political and cultural turmoil, a salve to combat our still-raging health crisis, a tonic for our social media spinout . . . This quietly important book offers hope as it tackles grief and isolation and our essential humanity.”
“A careful writer, a master of the small, telling observation.”
“The residents at Pheasant Run are acutely aware of the world’s indifference to them. They no longer work. Their great love affairs are behind them. Why should they fight back? But by the end of this underdog novel, Ms. McNamer has developed poignant reasons that they do.”
“McNamer brings great care to describing her main characters as they gain a renewed purpose for living. This is worth a spin.”
“When an inspector is called to look into the mysterious circumstances around a fire that broke out at a retirement home, the investigation entwines his life with those of its inhabitants, whose stories, according to our reviewer, Jen Doll, 'slowly unspool and intermingle.'"
"Quietly revelatory . . . Populated by a motley crew of residents, Pheasant Run hides mysteries behind its many doors, and McNamer reveals them with insight, grace, and humor, offering up a profoundly beautiful exploration of the limits — and lack thereof — of the human experience."
“McNamer writes with a slow-burning brilliance.”
“McNamer weaves into this narrative the ripple effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the mismanagement of retirement communities, a setting that is particularly relevant now considering the way COVID-19 has ravaged these communities. With beautifully realized characters, a wonderfully constructed plot, and some understated but powerful prose, this novel is a delight from start to finish.”
“A wonderfully smart and surprising sentence-writer . . . This is ‘the novel as story-telling.’ And it is of a very high order.”
“A master weaver of prose.”
“A strong, true voice . . . McNamer writes poetically, with restraint and insight.”
“A literary thriller written with McNamer’s trademark emotional acuity, Aviary is as questioning as its characters, heart-haunted, buoyant, and rich with the wonders that make life worth living.”
"[T]his is no geriatric whodunit, and author McNamer is not so concerned with exposing the perp . . . She's more interested in the indignities of old age, memory and loss, and what one character calls 'the secret of ongoingness.'"
“The true puzzle at the heart of the story is not one that can be solved. It is nothing less than the enigma of humanity . . . McNamer’s prose reliably rises to magnificence.”