by Keith Miller
“some people of the city are winged and when the sea shifts in the morning they pirouette on pinnacles, embrace the air and skim the waves calling to dolphins and sailfish beneath them” (Miller, 4).
This was a rather out-of-the-blue book. I’ve been going through boxes (in preparation for a long-planned on move) and it was one of the ones I found in my closet. I may have read it, or at least read some of it before, because there were two chapters (the third and fourth) that were very familiar. But especially the third chapter. Which unto itself is interesting, since it means that I didn’t remember the opening (if I have read some of it already).
Either way, let’s dig into The Book of Flying.
First off, it’s a very lyrical book.
“In this city a thousand doves live in a hundred towers of a hundred of a hundred bells and in the mornings when the bell ringers toll a summons to the sun the doves scatter like blown ash across the tile roofs and light under eaves whispering lulling words to sleepers, bidding them stay in bed a little longer ” (3)
“The fire pooled and siphoned color, the color of cloth like the color of jewels, bloodstone, black opal, lapis lazuli, emerald, a necklace around a hot throat. The flames snapped their fingers at the stars” (21).
So I was immediately drawn into the story just by the sheer cadence of the language and the enchanting idea of a city by the sea where half the population has wings. And the curious fact that “sometimes a winged child is born to parents wingless and is sent aloft and sometimes an earthbound child is born to flying parents and must go to live a life beneath the sky” (7).
Our protagonist, Pico the librarian and poet, is one of the latter. In chapter one “The Sad Poet and His Library”, he saves a winged girl, Sisi, from drowning. They fall in love (she loves the stories he reads to her), but her family disagrees with the match, since, I’m guessing, he doesn’t have wings. After finding a letter left by a previous librarian that confirms its existence (and having a vision of said place), Pico sets out to find the morning town Paunpuam where he can gain (or regain?) his wings.
There’s definitely something building in the plot about the idea of flight – who has the ability to do it and how they do. According to the letter, everyone has an inborn potential to have wings. People just don’t understand that.
Also in the letter, the librarian alludes to a previous disaster that occurred in the city when a winged boy fell in love with a wingless girl. His family disproved and he killed himself. And the disastrous consequence of this somehow led to the winged people fleeing and the city burning. I’m expecting this to be important later, since (1) it indicates a history as to why there’s no intermingling between winged and wingless, and (2) it mirrors Pico’s own dilemma.
Finally, after typing up these quotes, oh my god, I kept wanting to insert commas into the sentences! I’m no grammatican, but I felt like there needed to be some just from grammatical sense.
I’ll continue next week with chapter two.
“Lovebirds pulsed like painted hearts in the twilight, a snake swept past, tongue flickering from an arrowhead” (15).
Miller, Keith. The Book of Flying: A Novel. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2004. Print.