Bird Without A Song by James Kelly

This story was originally published June 24, 2020.

The title, Bird Without A Song, metaphorically refers to the lament of a veteran returning from Vietnam who is dealing with PTSD and is seeking his place in the universe. When overseas he was a Marine commissioned to pilot a Medivac. He briefly encounters a navy nurse on a hospital ship. When returning home to attend UCLA, he experiences severe anxiety/depression. Eventually he runs into that lovely, red-headed nurse again and they establish an easy relationship which ends tragically. Years later he travels to Costa Rica to involve himself in an inherited business venture and is tangentially caught up in the Iran/Contra scandal. There, in the tropics, he meets an attractive biologist and ultimately finds his "song".

Author, James Kelly, a local journalist who is a member of the Redwood Writers actually served three tours in the Vietnamese conflict. He promised he would write about his experiences so his memories and those of his comrades would be remembered. His book, however, deals with the aftermath of conflict rather than the war itself.

I felt, at times, as if I were reading a first draft of a wonderful novel that could be a best-seller or a choice option for a film interpretation considering its visual appeal with its more than interesting locales. But things happen too fast without being fleshed out. When a female character dies it is a pivotal event but it is glossed over rather quickly. The CIA/Noriega affair is mentioned but not really integrated into the main narrative. Two men have ties to the protagonist that were not expected but seem too coincidental. The love scene feels like something lifted from one of those "bodice buster" paperback novels. Until one gets into the rhythm of it, it is disconcerting to travel from Laguna Beach California to Costa Rica as the chapters pair off. On the back-cover summary, a main character is referred to as Ramona but in the text she is referred to as Catherine. This is trivial but again a jarring discrepancy and it adds to the feeling that one is reading a first draft that has not been edited.

After this critique, I will say the story was enjoyable and has great potential. The author has set his action in two fabulous locations. The Festival of the Arts that is centered in Laguna Beach and is the venue for a truly unique phenomenon which figures lightly into the plot. The Pageant of the Masters features tableaux vivant, in which human beings with the help of lighting, costumes and make up are transposed into reproductions of famous paintings. In the sleepy tropical village of Dos Pueblos in Costa Rica his description if often mesmerizing. "...a tropical tree stands singular and strange in the filtered light seemingly summoned from a ghostly forest... beneath its heavy branches, delicate patterns of nature's filigree are etched into the earth from last night's showers... a half moon, mirrored by pools of shimmering water dances in front of us as we walk under a damask sky of diamond stars." These lines are like lyrical poetry, like a "song."

Diane McCurdy can be reached at dmccurdy@sonic.net. Diane was born in Santa Rosa, has a BA from SF State and an MA from SSU in English Literature and several teaching credentials, two grown children and three cats. Diane has a lifelong interest in film, thus her DVD reviews on a broad spectrum of films. Clearly, this interest in creative imagination extends to the printed page and book reviews for those who love to read.

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