Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey

Kathleen Rooney. Penguin, $17 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-14-313542-5
Rooney follows Cher Ami, a British-born homing pigeon, and Charles Whittlesey, a Harvard-educated lawyer and WWI veteran, in this disappointing tale (after Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk). Cher Ami and Whittlesey alternately narrate their life stories leading up to the war: Cher Ami, female despite the name, is hatched into a happy pigeon family on an idyllic farm and becomes a prize-winning racer; Whittlesey, a New Englander, enjoys New York’s privacy and abundance of other secretly gay men. As a commissioned officer, Whittlesey must adjust to the coarse draftees under his command, while Cher Ami is a natural in her training (“The day I first flew home was the day I knew the meaning of true purpose”). Whittlesey goes on to become an effective commander, leading his men with pistol drawn and exceeding expectations from superiors. This proves dangerous when his battalion (now famously known as the “lost battalion”) gets trapped behind German lines and is under attack for days before they are relieved. Cher Ami, especially when talking about her youth or her taxidermied afterlife in the Smithsonian, is often appealing, but the two decorated war heroes are often tiresome, whether explaining how pigeons can’t understand human racism or the hollow life of a hero who couldn’t save his men. Rooney’s characters’ tendency to belabor the obvious ultimately sinks the book. (Aug.)
Reviewed on : 05/15/2020
Release date: 08/11/2020
Genre: Fiction
Book - 978-0-525-50709-3
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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