Book Review: Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Buchanan, Rowan Hisayo. Starling Days. The Overlook Press. 2020. $26.00. 294 pgs. HC. 9781419743597.

When Oscar is called to collect his wife Mina from the George Washington bridge one evening, he decides that it’s imperative to make a change for both of their happiness, and they move from New York to London at an attempt to reset their lives and their happiness. 

Starling Days follows Oscar and Mina to London, through their quiet moments as through their desperate moments, as they struggle to heal the fractures that have accumulated throughout their short marriage. While Mina battles with her inner turmoil, Oscar becomes less able to handle her struggles, and leaves to help his father with the family business. Bereft, Mina fills his absence with the company of his friend’s sister, Phoebe, for whom she has an immediate and all-consuming attraction. What makes Starling Days so compelling is watching these fraught relationships splinter and break, unsure how the characters will survive without them, or within them. The reader is treated to a tug-of-war in which each side has valid grievances as well as seemingly insurmountable flaws.  

Complicating these already convoluted match ups are the mental health issues the characters are living with, frankly portrayed in a way that is both deeply uncomfortable and absolutely necessary. The relationships these characters have with each other are not separate from their relationships with their own minds, and those are inextricable interwoven in order to confront that fact. Alternating the perspectives of Mina and Oscar, readers are let into their thoughts as they work through their feelings, their choices, their understanding that something may be irrational but also being unable to solve the problems they’re unable to name. Mina even gets to be in conversation with her mind throughout the novel, arguing with its drive to surrender.

Starling Days is not the kind of book that can be easily wrapped in a bow, all the loose strings tidied away, but it manages a satisfying and believable closing scene. Read Starling Days for the tension that exists between spouses, lovers, friends, and family. Read it for the ways those tensions are drawn taut, resolved, or ignored. There are no clear lines, no absolute imperatives, no path that promises happiness in this book, so if you’re the kind of reader who would like to know where these characters end up in 5 years, skip this one. But if you don’t mind just knowing them now, walk with them a moment in tense silence as you listen to their stories. These are character who need to be listened to. 

 

Nadia M Sahi
(She/Her/Hers)

 

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