Book of the Week: Migratory Animals – Mary Helen Specht

Harper’s Perennial paperback imprint publishes some of the freshest original literary fiction and nonfiction around. Mary Helen Specht’s first novel continues that tradition and is a great book to kick of their 2015 list with. The characters are drawn so perceptively and so lovingly that I felt I was a part of this thirtyish group of college friends in Austin, TX.

I’ll let the reviews below fill in the plot and virtues of this read and just add that I was happy to leave the arguably over-covered ground of twenty-something coming-of-age stories for this look at people in their thirties coming to terms with their decisions—failures, disappointments, compromises—and to an understanding of what their lives ahead will offer them.

I’m a sucker for debut novels and I loved Mary Helen Specht’s thought-provoking coming-of-middle-age novel. It has everything I look for in a novel–lovely, poetic prose (I recorded pages of passages that I loved) and complex and richly-drawn characters with thought-provoking issues who evoke an emotional response in me. I loved the multi-perspective narrative, and I felt a strong connection to the characters as they dealt with the ‘stuff’ of life: illness; being a good parent, friend or partner; disappointment in love and in marriage; how to sever ties with the past in order to move forward; the challenge of making a living post-2008; and sometimes, just getting through the day. A reflective, emotional connection to characters is perhaps the most important aspect of a novel to me, and in the best of novels, that connection triggers an awareness of the need for empathy and maybe even a strengthening of my ability to empathize with the people in my life. This was such a book for me.”
— Jeanne Joesten, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

“Specht’s vivid debut probes the nature of family, the notion of home, and the tender burdens of both. After her mother dies of Huntington’s disease, Flannery evades the suffocating pain of her family in Texas for work as a climate scientist in Nigeria. When funding issues force her to return to the U.S., she leaves behind her Nigerian fiancé, Kunle, and the only place she ever felt at home. Back in Texas, her sister Molly is showing early symptoms of the disease that claimed their mother. The sisters’ close-knit group of friends struggle to accept the reality of Molly’s diagnosis amid their own challenges….Specht’s distinctive prose—rich with sharp observations, nimble language, and lyrical imagery—makes the novel a quirky and memorable read.”
Publishers Weekly

“A finely wrought first novel. . . . Specht weaves fascinating details on snowflakes, weaving, birding, genetics and engineering, plus a spot-on-portrait of Austin.”
— Kirkus

 Migratory Animals (9780062346032) by Mary Helen Specht. $14.99 trade paperback original. 1/20/15 on sale.

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