The latest in an occasional series of posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t
Title: Fowl Weather (Algonquin, 320 pp., $23.95), by Bob Tarte.
What it is: A Michigan writer’s memoir of the country life he and his wife share with 39 birds, ducks, geese, rabbits, cats, rabbits and other creatures.
How much I read: The first seven and last two chapters (more than half the book).
Why I stopped reading: Fowl Weather didn’t live up to its billing as having a “Dave Barry on a farm” sensibility. The authors of great animal stories – from James Herriot to John Grogan — leave no doubt that they love people as much as animals. Tarte often seems to love animals more than people. His humor tends to be cute or arch instead of witty and is sometimes mean-spirited, especially when he takes aim at the elderly. He writes of a frail gardener who wanted to work for him: “He wheezed like a cracked boiler as he staggered around the yard to appraise the work … I had an envelope that needed licking, but he left before I could suggest it.”
Best line in what I read: Tarte describes a quartet of baby Baltimore orioles that he and his wife, Linda, rescued: “We both declared them to be our favorites of all the birds she’d raised. In stark contrast to the starlings – or even baby blue jays, which are unexpectedly well mannered – the orioles didn’t shriek at feeding time. Nor did they flap frantically around inside their cage as starlings did, in the manner of bats swirling out of a cave. They waited for their turns like people in line at the savings and loan … And what a beauty a baby Baltimore oriole was, with its olive-brown head, barred black-and-white wings, an patch of burnt yellow on the breast.”
Worst line in what I read: A description of one of Tarte’s childhood neighbors: “Brink was the barely coherent old bore from the next block who had made a habit of sneaking up on my father while he was doing yard work and informing him, ‘That’s how I got my start,’ as the launching point for a discussion about his sales career.” In Fowl Weather animals typically get more sympathy than this.
Consider reading instead: John Grogan’s Marley and Me (Morrow, $21.95) www.marleyandme.com, the true story of a family’s life with a wayward Labrador retriever, or Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I, a classic memoir of a young couple’s struggle to raise chickens, made into a 1947 movie with Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert www.imdb.com.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.