Jim Paul, Author . Harcourt $24 (320p) ISBN 978-0-15-100495-9

A love story with an ornithological spin, this latest novel by poet, novelist and translator Paul (Medieval in L.A., etc.) leads its two protagonists deep into the hinterlands of South America. Fern Melartin is a naturalist interested in the aratinga erythrogenys, a species of parrot. It inhabits the mangrove swamps below Guayaquil, Ecuador, which is why Fern incautiously accepts a job at an animal reserve in that area offered by the reserve director, Leonard Qualles, leaving her fiancé, Geoffrey, back in Arizona. Soon she discovers that the reserve is more like a zoo, and Qualles is a rat whose louche mannerisms conceal murky business. Fern is fired on drubbed up charges (Qualles doesn't want observers around for long), but finds refuge in Puerto Alegre, a coastal village in which two American Peace Corps volunteers are living. She is happy until she receives word that another supposed researcher into aratinga erythrogenys wants to meet her. David Huntington is in Ecuador on a fluke. He is a San Francisco poet, the opposite of a life-affirming Whitman type. A major fellowship has recently allowed him to quit teaching pick-up classes at Mills College. However, the real changes in David's life occur after his father gives him a parrot—an aratinga erythrogenys that he names Little Wittgenstein. The parrot runs wild in his apartment, so he lets it out the window; then he feels so guilty he looks for it, researches parrot life and generally begins to encounter the real, physical world he has spent his lifetime sedulously avoiding. Finally, after discovering a flock of feral aratinga erythrogenys, David decides to take a boat to Ecuador to see the birds in their native habitat. Paul's story successfully weds an odd theme—the ethology of parrots—to the perennial fascinations of human courtship behavior. (July)

Reviewed on: 05/05/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-0643-3
Paperback - 305 pages - 978-0-15-602972-8
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