“Living in a city is like being on a far off island, Azi thinks. Thousands of islands all cut off by gullies, yet all belonging to one another,” writes Jay Merrill in her book, God of the Pigeons. Set against a city backdrop, Merrill infuses the idea of being alone within her style of writing that has a pleasant, yet striking quietness. While my review is based selectively on two sections of the book—the first and last stories within the collection—both works provided an unforeseen challenge. The philosophical or deep presence of an inner consciousness lurks beneath what first comes off as straightforward narration. The meticulous attention to details and amount of layering between the lines stirs the mind of anyone reading this piece. My initial reading of God of the Pigeons left me confused. The structure is deceptively simple and yet it contains enough to lead the reader to question the meaning behind the author’s words.
Like Merrill’s rendition of city living, single lines work to plant a specific yet isolated thought, but together they form the entire piece. The nature of the work lies within the images created through the author’s strikingly original perception of city life, which I found perfectly contained within the rooms of the apartment and the boarded up fireplace. The images Merrill creates clash with the noisy opinion most people have of city living—an altogether different type of noise that is human.
The story revolves around Azi and Rob who live in an elevated apartment complex. After finding a pigeon dangling from inside their chimney, their perception of their apartment drastically changes as it has “…gained in complexity.” Their chimney becomes a haunting space, “an invisible room” that eventually stretches and fills the entire apartment. Merrill takes the reader on a journey of deep self-reflection. I was left contemplating the city, life, and the illusions we build up to protect ourselves.
Riddles, the last story in her collection, is quite literally a riddle. Merrill infuses elusive and vivid images with witty and thought provoking commentary that guides the reader through a series of descriptive passages narrated by an unidentified voice. This story is broken into six subsections with clues hidden in the title of each new part.
1. I’m in the dark
2. I’m all in green
3. I’m into thieving
4. I cannot eat the food I see
5. I can picture the sky
6. I am reborn
What am I?
“The darkness can do funny things to your way of seeing,” Merrill wrote in Riddles. Truthfully, these stories are beyond me. Merrill writes elusively and poetically. She writes with great care and intent which requires the eyes of a careful reader. Meaning can be hidden within seemingly simple language. Each reader might gain a new insight overlooked by another. It is the kind of book that challenges you to stretch your mind to see things differently and read deeply. City apartments, even with its noise, will forever hold a haunting quality “like islands” of different rooms that separate and bring together people. For me, the readings from God of the Pigeons reminded me of a line in Preludes by T.S Elliot, “One thinks of all the hands / That are raising dingy shades / In a thousand furnished rooms.” Since I was only able to read the first and last chapters, this review isn’t a complete account of the entire book. However, if you can get hold of a copy, I urge you to read it.