Looking After Pigeon

Looking After Pigeon



"This is a masterful, gorgeous, subtle, and immensely satisfying novel, one that holds a reader from start to finish through the sheer power and delight of the way in which it is told. I have great affection for this beautifully drawn band of characters; Pigeon and her family will stay with me always. If you love superb literary fiction with a genuine and engaging voice, this book is for you."
—Harriet Scott Chessman, author of Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

"A wise and quietly compelling novel, so completely intimate that it feels more like memoir than fiction. It is the story of one summer in the life of a child named Pigeon, who attempts to find her place within her fractured family, and in the wider world. A story about solitude, and searching, which reminds us that love is sometimes found in the most unexpected places."
—Michelle Richmond, author of The Year of Fog and No One You Know

"Which of us has not experienced a summer that changed us forever? Carol Markson's poignant rendering of just such a summer in her novel, LOOKING AFTER PIGEON, will remind us of the times in our own lives when our idealism and trust were challenged, when we suddenly learned the meaning of helplessness. But Markson deftly takes us beyond that story of lost innocence and resignation to explore how traumatic change in childhood can, if left unexamined, foil our deepest desires for intimacy and commitment. LOOKING AFTER PIGEON reminds us that while nothing about a family is simple or predictable, we cannot thrive without being a part of one."
—Susanne Pari, author of The Fortune Catch

I adore this novel about five-year-old Pigeon going it alone, searching for someone to take care of her in her dysfunctional family. It's heartbreaking to be sure, but also funny and sweet; and if your family, like mine, wasn't ideal, you'll find this novel incredibly validating. Markson delivers some truly memorable, and horrifyingly familiar characters in her brisk yet subtle prose. Pigeon's self-absorbed and utterly dismissive mother is truly one of the greatest characters I've come across in a long time. Pick up a copy today!
—Eric Peterson, Books, Inc. (independent book store)


—Joan Baum, The Independent
It's around the mid `90s, and a woman named Pigeon, maybe in her late twenties or early thirties, muses on the oddness of memory. It's summer, and though she has the normal vague recollections about milestones in life, she's haunted, with "almost photographic recall," by memories of the summer before she turned six"—"the heat, the voices that surrounded me, the smells, all those incidents, particulars that took place." That summer changed her in ways she still cannot accept or understand. "While others are off on vacations, growing brown on the beach . . . I grow morose, often inert, thinking about the past." The man she lives with has urged her to see a "shrink," but when, in her spare, blunt, minimalist way she resists, he urges her at least to write, to exorcize the demons, and let that summer go. She "thinks" she agrees (nice ambiguity, that), and because she loves him (though she refuses his offer of marriage) and wants to make him happy, she takes his advice. What follows is her story of that fateful summer. A brief Afterword by her movingly concludes the story on a note of tentative reconciliation.

Looking After Pigeon, Maud Carol Markson's second novel, explores from a child's point of view what it means to be abandoned by a beloved father who up and left his family after he lost his job as a pharmacist in the city. Pigeon is only five, and though she is observant and precocious, it does seem a bit of stretch (or a stylistic misstep) to imagine her looking at the world as Markson sometimes has her do. For example, Pigeon admires her older sister Dove for her "utter disregard for our family's values and opinions not her own, that mien of complete control."

Pigeon's eccentric mother named her children after birds. Sixteen-year-old Dove is a beauty, Robin, a sharply observant ten year old. Mother herself is pretty but oddly proper, reclusive, undemonstrative. After Father leaves, she moves the family in with her estranged handsome brother, Edward, who lives in a modest beach house on the Jersey shore, and she gets a job in a movie house to make ends meet. Pigeon is overwhelmed, however, by memories of the family's 4th floor apartment on the Upper West Side and of Father, a pharmacist who lost his job and license for dispensing drugs without prescriptions. The parents fight; he flees.

With a sure feel for avoiding the expected narrative turn, Markson deepens Pigeon's loneliness by showing it as a constant in contrast to her mother and her siblings' ability to meet new friends. Who will look after her? Mother is watchful but unaffectionate. Uncle Edward is devoted but secretive and often away. Dove's got a job at a nearby diner, attracting the eye of the owner, though it's a boyfriend back in the city who has her attention. And Robin, despite his analytical mind, falls under the influence of an elderly fortune teller who works the boardwalk. There are stabs at normal living - a barbecue, a party - but nothing can assuage the terrible longing Pigeon feels for her father. She was his favorite. He sends an occasional postcard. Will he ever come back? She invents a game of made-up families and friends, cut out faces from magazines. The adult Pigeon then intrudes, wondering "why it is often so difficult for me to care about real life people with the same engagement, the same sincerity of feeling." Of course, the recollections of this traumatic summer show why.

Markson is particularly effective with children's dialogue, interruptions, humor and all. She captures Dove's defensive sarcasm, Robin's cautious sense of responsibility, Mother's reliance on maxims about how to behave. She also masterfully recreates the Bruce Springsteen working-class world of `70s New Jersey, but the snapshots from just two decades past nicely yellow with added age. Some of the details here are so telling that one senses autobiographical impetus. If so, all the more power to an author who is able to universalize a theme of a child's need to belong, even to a dysfunctional family, and the ways in which new love may compensate for old but never forgotten loss.

—Small Press Review
"Markson's gift for characterization is obvious throughout the novel. Case in point, a description of her sister, Dove, who is "most herself when in front of other people as if she were a television set, filled with entertainment and even glamour, that was made to wait blank and empty until someone came to turn her on." Ultimately, it's Markson's facility with creating strong characters that makes Pigeon's world so believable even if the minutia of this world is not always in line with historical fact. It's the world as she remembers it, a world of colorful characters and larger-than-life scenarios. As a result, Looking After Pigeon is an engaging read with hints of Augusten Burroughs, Harper Lee, Elizabeth Mosier, and Heather Sellers. A great book for summer." Read the full review here

—School Library Journal Adult/High School

The narrator of this novel, seemingly set in the early 1970s, is five-year-old Pigeon. She observes her family's changes during the summer after her parents'; separation and during which her 16-year-old sister becomes pregnant. Pigeon is bright and remarkably self-sufficient, and as she describes her mother's child-rearing methods, her self-reliance is credible enough to make the story compelling. Her mother takes her; her sister, Dove; and their 10-year-old brother, Robin, to the Jersey Shore, where they move in with the children's uncle. The mother goes to work in a movie house, Dove takes a job at a diner, Robin discovers a deep commitment to fortune-telling, and Pigeon is often left to her own devices from morning until evening. She longs for her father, can't interpret her uncle's relationships with other men, yearns for company during the day, and offers her sister support while longing for some in return. Robin seems to be more alert to Pigeon's needs than anyone else except for their uncle, who is caring but ineffectual as a substitute parent. Pigeon and Robin struggle to understand the changes in their mother when she takes up with a new man and develops a near obsession with a tent revivalist. Markson sews a neat tapestry of family flaws as observed by the not-yet-judgmental Pigeon, making this a sound and interesting choice.
—Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia