Wednesday, September 16, 2015
The Hummingbird by Stephen Kiernan
Deborah Birch is a hospice nurse. Not many people are suited for such a grueling profession, but Deborah knows that helping someone end their life is a gift given to few. Her latest case, Barclay Reed, is a former professor. He is ending his life alone without family or friends, his career a victim of an academic scandal. He is bitter and combative but Deborah is determined to make his passing as easy and meaningful as it can be.
Reed isn't the only person Deborah is providing succor to. Her husband Michael has recently returned from his third tour in Iraq and while he is back physically, he is definitely not the same man who went to war. He is distant with Deborah and barely managing to control the massive anger that his actions left him with. Although he went to war as a mechanic, his skill with a rifle is noted and he returns as a former sniper with thirty-one kills. Those lives haunt him.
As Deborah tries to help Michael and Barclay, Barclay starts to open up a bit to her. He shares a story from World War II that few know. It is about the only Japanese pilot to ever fly over and drop a bomb in the United States. The existence of this story is at the root of the scandal that ended Reed's career. As he and Deborah discuss it, Reed shares what he's learned about how to end war and find peace, lessons that Deborah wants to share with Michael.
Stephen Kiernan has written a hauntingly beautiful novel that explores the meaning of war and what it does to the men and women who go to fight. The ability to turn away from the violence afterwards and live a life without it is at the root of those who are healed as opposed to those who mentally and emotionally never make it home. The reader is left with questions about the best way to help a loved one's struggles and how to truly give what another person needs in their life. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.