cover image Birds of Paradise

Birds of Paradise

Diana Abu-Jaber. Norton, $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-393-06461-2

Abu-Jaber's fourth novel (after Origin) is a stunning portrayal of a damaged family. Five years before, at 13, beautiful Felice Muir ran away from home and her mother, Avis, father, Brian, and older brother, Stanley, to live on the streets of Miami. Avis relies on sporadic meetings with her daughter although Felice often neglects to appear. When Brian thinks of Felice, he focuses on the past: "In that warm salty night, he felt as if the texture of time itself were thickening, settling over them, as if they would be held together in the froth of air, its silky threads attaching and keeping them safe, everlasting family." Work keeps all of them absorbed: Avis is an expert pastry chef, Brian a real estate lawyer haunted by Miami's gentrification, Stanley the owner of a popular organic food shop, and even Felice has occasional modeling gigs that bring in small influxes of cash. Felice has left them, but her parents and brother are also alienated from one other as they mark the passage of time and reflect on Felice's upcoming 18th birthday. Abu-Jaber's effortless prose, fully fleshed characters, and a setting that reflects the adversity in her protagonists' lives come together in a satisfying and timely story. (Sept.)