Of a Feather
by Ken Goldman
Horrific Tales Publishing
Before I begin this review, there are two things you need to know.
First, I happen to be friends with author Ken Goldman. Known the guy for two decades now … and counting.
Secondly, I do not read horror – which just so happens to be Ken’s area of expertise and the genre for Of a Feather, his new book which is available today.
But when your friend of 23 years publishes his first full-length novel, you tend to make exceptions. And in this business, it’s considered good manners for writerly friends to support each other by reading each other’s work. Which I try to do, when I can.
That’s what I did via an ARC (advanced readers copy) on my Kindle during a recent Philadelphia to Pittsburgh post-holiday trip. My husband (the very reason I know Ken in the first place) was driving us 350 miles across the fields of Pennsylvania, leaving me to become immersed in this novel and its characters.
And Goldman stacks Of a Feather with quite a few of them. There’s 17 year old Socrates Singer who has mysterious powers; Gert Breedlove, an octogenarian who spends her days feeding pigeons by a beloved statue in the park; Socrates’ arch-nemesis, a bully named Frankie Bottinelli; Doc Wiggins, a World War II veteran; Doris Singer, Socrates’ precocious 13 year old sister (definitely my favorite character in the novel); Jamie, a gorgeous teenager (and Doc’s granddaughter); an Indian warrior, and Taryn E. Friedman, an investigative reporter for the local news. (Every town has a Taryn.)
(Even Desiree Chappelle – from Goldman’s novella Desiree – earns a very brief mention.)
(A note on Goldman and his women: he handles his female characters and their interactions especially well; in Of a Feather, there are references to the chicks being strong, resourceful, financially-independent, and entrepreneurial. Hell, yeah.)
And of course, there is a special bird which comes to symbolize so very much for Socrates. He begins to realize that he has more in common with the bird, its history, and its legacy than anyone ever imagined.
In fact, all of these characters are connected. As we discover these connections – in nature, in our personal relationships – we also learn that a duality and a struggle for good and evil is constantly happening all around us.
In the opening pages, Goldman sets his reader up very early on for this conflict and makes us see them at every turn, even at something as innocent as a bird show at the grand opening for a new mall.
“This bird of legend represents the dual nature of our world,’ the elderly warrior explained to a hundred parents whose children were already yawning. “You see, everything in nature contains its opposite, We move in and out of darkness. As thunder contains life-giving rain, that same thunder creates fear and menace, lightning and flood. Wakinyan may serve as a protector of the Oglala, but also he may appear malevolent to those very same tribesmen. Truth flies into this world with two faces ….”
“The Indian smiled as if he had read the boy’s mind. ‘In order to learn, you must first be ignorant.The mask of Wakinyan knows many things, he sees through many eyes, as many as there are birds in the sky. We are all connected, Man with the flowers, and trees with the birds.”
The fact that something so beautiful and good (birds, relationships) also possesses the ability to become ugly and malicious and deceptive is a tough lesson to learn at any age, but especially so when you’re 17 like Socrates Singer and who, like most teenage boys, has …um, one thing on his mind. (More on that aspect in a minute.)
While reading Of a Feather, it’s easy to see the comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic film “The Birds.” (Goldman, a former high school English and Film Studies teacher, has certainly done his homework here.) I may have seen “The Birds” (probably at Ken Goldman’s house), but even a non-viewer could tell that there were enough winks and nods. That’s perfectly fine; you can’t write a novel about Birds Gone Wild and not give a hat tip to Hitchcock. I didn’t have an issue with that at all.
Where my issue came was with one aspect of the writing, particularly the language. Now, I tend not to offend easily but Goldman’s prose is incredibly … raw. I’m talking in excess of rated R raw. You feel squeamish at all the f-bombs and c-bombs – be forewarned, there are quite a lot of them – and other crudities you’ve never heard before. (Let’s just say you would be well advised not to leave a Ken Goldman story in full view where a child could discover it and learn a few new vocabulary words and phrases.) As I read, I found myself cringing across the Commonwealth.
I also know that this is Ken Goldman’s brand of horror.
As I said earlier, I’m not a reader of the genre and certainly not an expert. I can only go by what I read and what I like. So he’ll probably laugh at me for saying this, but Kenny … you’re at your best when writing about affairs of the heart, my friend.
Contrast to the f-blasts, Goldman treats us to passages like these, the ones that resonated with me most. (Talk about opposites and duality – it really is all here in Of a Feather.)
“Socrates had always hoped one person might appear, just one person who would understand his turmoil, understanding it and caring about him anyway, not because they had to, but because they really did care. And then, suddenly, from nowhere – magic! For a few incredible weeks, Socrates mattered, he meant something to two people, and the world had righted itself.”
(We all get this, don’t we? We’ve been there.)
“For Socrates Singer the slightest hint of happiness doomed itself to a short shelf-life.”
“Love, even when double-crossed, should never fight back. To do so seemed a betrayal in itself. This, Socrates told himself repeatedly during those days of early summer, and he hoped he might eventually believe it, when every instinct told him he had (again!) been made a fool of.”
With more than 30 of his stories slated for publication in 2014, there’s nothing foolish about Ken Goldman’s writing. He enjoys a solid following in the horror genre, and after many years of hard work, it’s nice for us as his friends to see his writing career taking flight. If you have the stomach for an ample helping of gore and profanity seasoned with a dash of romance and humor, then perhaps Of a Feather might be for you.