Archives For Laura Jacobs


A Brief Review of
The Bird Catcher, A novel by Laura Jacobs.

Hardback: St. Martins, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Brittany Sanders.

After reading the synopsis on The Bird Catcher’s dustjacket, I presumed that Laura Jacobs’ promised story of a New York City window dresser with a penchant for bird-watching would portray a woman who was either pretentiously cosmopolitan, refined yet boring, or both. I was pleasantly disappointed when the title character turned out to be an intriguing introvert named Margaret Snow, who is neither unabashedly urban nor an erudite snob. A true lover of natural beauty, Margaret’s passion for birding somehow coexists (and perhaps delicately offsets) her career as a designer of department store windows, leaving her equal parts artist and biologist.

    Told with understated compassion and painful realism, Margaret’s story of purpose, loss, and self re-discovery catches one off guard. It is well-paced, well-written, and fearless – sometimes a bit too much so. The several intimate sex scenes, though not irrelevant to the plot, provide an unnecessary amount of detail, distracting from and tarnishing what is otherwise an impressive display of narrative control. But what works against Jacobs also works for her, as this same fearlessness lends an appealing authenticity to her fictional heroine’s thoughts and actions. Margaret admits, “She felt tricked by ego, tricked by sex, and tricked by her own inexperience, which led her to believe that her body’s hunger was also her heart’s.” Lines like this reveals Jacobs’ wisdom, even when her narrative tact might be in question.

    Lest one think the title is some clever metaphor, be prepared for several chapters devoted to Margaret’s graphic, step-by-step taxidermy projects, as her fascination with birds morphs from lifelong hobby to consuming obsession to a remarkable (and illegal) artistic zenith. Within this progressive mania, as the details of her personal life slip out in poignant vignette-like moments, one realizes just how much Margaret has lost. As she recalls a friend saying, “I’m not sure that’s true . . . that you can only destroy something once.” But this dark truth is countered with the words of Margaret’s husband, Charles: “Poets never stop singing . . . no matter what you take from them.”

    It becomes clear that Jacobs is not afraid of the ugliness of grief, maybe because she believes in the end it will not win; its reign will be usurped by hope and song. Almost akin to skinning birds, she seems to accept—even revel—in the messy process required to create a beautiful mount. In that way, perhaps The Bird Catcher is both metaphorical and literal. Either way, Jacobs’ novel trudges through the emotional spectrum with brave, deliberate steps. If you can handle meticulous details of eviscerated birds and broken human hearts, The Bird Catcher delivers a memorable, authentic story.


THE NY TIMES Review of
Novella Carpenter’s

I had a feeling I might like this memoir when I came upon on its first sentence, a gentle twist on the opening of Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa.” Here is Novella Carpenter: “I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto.”

But I didn’t truly fall in love with “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” until I hit Page 38. That’s when the bees that Ms. Carpenter has purchased from a mail order company arrive at her post office in Oakland, Calif. A panicked postal employee calls, begging her to pick them up because they’re attracting other bees and “freaking everyone out.”

So Ms. Carpenter hurries over, picks up the humming box, and casually plops it into the front basket of her bicycle. Then she has a parade. “I proceeded to ride down Telegraph Avenue, laughing out loud at the bees who tried to follow us amid the traffic,” she writes. “At stoplights I looked down at the mesh box, the bees churning around, and told them to get ready for” — and here she gives her neighborhood’s nickname — “GhostTown.” Fresh, fearless and jagged around the edges, Ms. Carpenter’s book, an account of how she raised not only fruit and vegetables but also livestock on a small, scrubby abandoned lot in Oakland, puts me in mind of Julie Powell’s “Julie & Julia” and Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.”

Read the full review:

Novella Carpenter.

Hardcover: Penguin Press, 2009
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $22 ] [ Amazon ]

by Laura Jacobs.

Laura Jacobs is an urban miniaturist. In her sleek, pitch-perfect second novel, The Bird Catcher, she lavishes delectable attention on the subtle distinctions wrought by taste, class, money, and style in the city on which she trains her eagle eye. But there is nothing diminutive in her vision: Under the force of her piercing, halogen-bright gaze, the world cracks open, large and luminous.

Her latest protagonist, thirty-one-year-old Margaret Snow, is quietly but desperately trying to keep her head above water. A dropout from the graduate art-history program at Columbia University, Margaret now spends her days at Saks, where she creates extravagant displays for the windows that line Fifth Avenue. Much of her free time is spent bird-watching, either in the upper reaches of Central Park or at her weekend cottage on the Chesapeake Bay. Jacobs limns Margaret’s mounting despair with deftness and restraint; it’s not until page 59 that we learn Margaret’s adored husband, Charles—a scholar of ancient Assyria, university professor, and fellow bird enthusiast—was killed in a plane crash.

Read the full review:

Laura Jacobs.

Hardcover: St. Martins, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ] [ Amazon ]

A review of David Sedley’s
Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity

In case you haven’t noticed: 2009 is Darwin Year. On 24 November, 150 years will have passed since the theory of evolution by natural selection was first fully presented and defended, in the first edition of the Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory dealt the coup de grâce to the teleological way of thinking about nature which had dominated the minds of both the learned and the lay for more than two millennia, before it was gradually undermined by the rise of modern science (though, typically, perhaps, it spawned more arguments in its last phase than it ever did before). At least that is what people used to think where I come from. But then they had not yet been confronted with American Creationism.

‘Creationism’ in the contemporary everyday sense of the word is the view that the account of creation in Genesis is literally true and can be supported by science. According to recent polls, up to 66 percent of Americans share this view.1 Historically, this sense of the word seems to have developed from the more precisely defined (though extensionally wider) notion that the biological species inhabiting the earth have not evolved gradually from variants of other species but were created the way they are from the outset. Creationism in the everyday sense emerged in opposition to Darwinism. It invariably (I think) comes in a package with the belief that the biological species were created the way they are so as to be well adapted for a purpose. That is to say, it is closely related to a teleological way of thinking about nature.

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Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity.
David Sedley.

Hardcover: U. of California Press, 2007.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]