I have vowed that when I reach my crone years, I will sport a talking crow on my shoulder. Once I grow accustomed to the sensation of talons gripping my flesh, and the proximity of a carrion-tearing beak, I think the bird and I will get on famously. I had been thinking about crows because I was reading Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s Crow Planet, which I mentioned to a book group member who exclaimed, “Oh! Crows? You should read Mink River.”
Roddy Doyle’s Mink River offers us the town of Neawanaka, tucked in between hills and ocean on the soaking wet Oregon coast. Moses the talking crow resides there, and it is through his eyes, as he soars over town, that we sometimes see the tapestry of inhabitants. They are a passle of economically challenged townspeople, Irish and Native American, struggling through their private pain, joy and longing. While the joint heads of the unconventional Department of Public Works, Worried Man and Cedar, take off for Wyeast (Mt. Hood) in search of the “spool of time,” the doctor smokes twelve cigarettes a day – one for each of the apostles – and No Horses, the sculptor and possibly world’s fastest runner, tries to outstrip her depression.
Doyle is a poetic novelist – there are times when the novel has a spoken word rhythm – and he is also a chronic lister. There are two-page paragraphs made up entirely of lists. It works, I think, although you have to catch his groove. And not only the style is surprising: early on, when a she-bear walks out of the woods to help a person carry something, I had to make the decision to be all in, to surrender to the magical realism and the language-driven tale. You would think that would have happened after I got introduced to the talking crow but strangely, no, that seemed possible. The setting is meticulously evoked in prose that seems worshipful at times. If you believe the Northwest is a gorgeous green paradise, and think it deserves to be immortalized in words worthy of it’s epic rain, bracingly beautiful mountains and roaring rivers, then you will treasure this sprawling, quirky novel.