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Buy for $24.49
H Is for Hawk meets Grief Is the Thing with Feathers in this evocative debut novel about a pill-popping anesthesiologist and avid birder who embarks on a quest to find one of the world's rarest species, allowing nothing to get in his way - until he's forced to confront his obsessions and what they've cost him.
Anesthesiologist Adrian Mandrick is filled with contradictory impulses. He wants to be a good husband to his wife and a good father to his children; he wants to forgive his once-beloved mother for the crime she committed and the long-lost father who accused her. But when he receives a call from his mother after years of silence, he takes solace in the very pain medication he prescribes, spiraling downward into addiction.
His sole source of true comfort is his "life list" - the all-encompassing record of the 863 bird species he's spotted and identified. His is the third longest list in all of North America. But when Henry Lassiter, the legendary birder who held the region's second longest list, dies suddenly, Adrian seizes the opportunity to make his way to the very top. A desperate search for the extremely rare Ivory-Billed Woodpecker eventually leaves him stranded in the thick swamplands of Florida's panhandle, where he is forced to confront his past and present failures, to reflect on what his obsessions and addictions have cost him, and to question what is truly important in his life.
Combining wry humor and mystery with environmental adventure, The Life List of Adrian Mandrick is a fast-paced, engaging story that heralds the arrival of a new literary talent.
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Birding can save your life
Author Chris White introduces Adrian Mandrick to us as Adrian squashes through a wet field in expensive leather shoes to pursue a Golden-Crowned Sparrow while his wife has to choose between trick or treating without him or keeping the costumed kids at home. Later, he tells his wife he was late because of a surgery (Adrian is an anesthesiologist) after he’s unable to rescue his kids from a mob of pumpkin-heads before a mass strip-tease suitable only for adults. This is the first bad decision, followed by a lie, that separates Adrian from the people who love him. Chris White leads us through a series of these – the bad decisions escalating, the lies becoming more egregious, and the isolation worse – until we follow Adrian on his pursuit for the Ivory-billed woodpecker into a murky and militarized swamp towards the book’s climax.
Adrian’s choice of birding as a life framework makes sense for this isolated man, with its rigid life-listing protocols and weird social circle held together by arcane bird facts and competition between frenemies at the elite levels of birding. It gives Adrian a structure to combat a childhood of chaos, and it gives him structure as he becomes a lifelong drug addict. White gets the birding right, too – every detail (except one minor one*) rings true to the actual world of elite birdwatching.
I particularly admired the architecture of the book’s key themes – White weaves several elements together with real care, and this keeps the reader intrigued with the details while we keep turning pages to find out how big of a disaster Adrian will create for himself. Serious birding leads to some great outdoor adventures – many of them dangerous, and there are two of these in the book. Taking narcotics while performing surgery or driving are also really bad ideas that add some fine tension in places. White manages to make us care about broken Adrian even as he behaves like a shitheel in his narcotic-hazed obliviousness to his parents, wife and kids. There’s redemption in this story, but not of a trite variety, which makes the ending satisfying without being ridiculous.
Overall a very well-constructed, imaginative book with a plot that keeps the reader fully engaged.
*The minor error is that the ebird database is owned by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, not the American Birding Association, a detail that will only matter to birders who keep life lists.
3 people found this helpful
- Griffin Kater
A dazzling story of bold change and transformation, trippy drug use and magical true to life mysterious joy. A powerful life affirming story as timeless and the ivory billed woodpeckers legacy. An unlikely hero, comes out on top.
2 people found this helpful
- Ray Stewart
As a bird-watcher I thought this might be an interesting story, but Adrian Mandrick is weird and self-absorbed. Who leaves their wife at a gas station stop? Only listened to about half of his strangeness, then gave up.
1 person found this helpful