The Blackbird Season is a book I couldn't read fast enough. It had me from the get-go with this tale of love and secrets in a rural Pennsyvania town. It begins with an eerie premise- thousands of starlings falling from the sky, dead. All over town. And the story unfolds from there as Nate and his wife see their marriage fracture after Nate is accused of sleeping with one of his students. Nate claims he's innocent, and their mutual friend Bridget, another teacher, believes him. Well, mostly. The evidence is pretty convincing, but she knows Nate and she knows he didn't do it.
The student in question, Lucia, is the heart of the story. A troubled girl, with white hair and a reputation as a witch, she's the accuser but throughout the story it's unclear what her relationship is with Nate. Was he just helping her through a tough time? He has a reputation for being close to his students, and he's the baseball coach and popular. Most of the parents like him, at least until he's accused. Then the town golden boy is suddenly persona non grata, and Bridget is one of the few that stands by him. Nate also has issues in his marriage with Alecia,who cares for their autistic son Gabe mostly alone. Alecia's whole life is wrapped around Gabe and his special needs, and Nate feels neglected.
The story is told from four viewpoints- Nate and Alecia, as well as Bridget and occasionally Lucia. The Lucia chapters mostly to serve to provide a glimpse into the enigmatic Lucia's life and background, which is pretty depressing. She's being abused by her brother and her parents have run off, and her only lifeline is her friend Taylor, who seems to run hot and cold with her. And that's partly where Nate comes in- the guy who's disconnected from his wife's struggles seems to be there for everyone else in town, including his students- and Lucia. I thought they were all compelling, sometimes unlikable, sometimes totally relatable, and it felt true to life. The small town, the cliques, the snarky parents. And strangely enough, the book is funny. At least I thought so- the narrative voice for each character is pretty distinct, but the author has a way of poking fun at suburban life in a way that reminded me of Liane Moriarty. I found myself laughing at certain points, especially in Alecia's chapters. You can relate to her frustrations and her feelings toward Nate, as he sails through life while she tends to Gabe.
There's no real right or wrong here- it's just people, and everyone has a point. Nate and Bridget both feel like Gabe consumes every waking moment in Alecia's life, and he does- they would like her to lighten up, just a bit, and she of course doesn't understand that at all. Bridget has her own issues, she's now a widow and sort of tuned out of the daily school rhythms- she's just going through the motions, but her role as creative writing instructor gives her insight into the students, especially when things erupt. She's crucial to the story as she is the only one with access to Lucia's innermost thoughts, via her journal. She discovers some unsettling truths about the people around Lucia and tries to help.
What's with the birds? It lends a possibly paranormal element to the story, which I liked, and while a possible explanation is given, it's left open- ended I found the climactic reveal a little unrealistic, but each chapter provides more insight into these flawed people and I couldn't get enough. The characters are complex and well- drawn, and this book looks at so many things- how well do we really know someone? We can never know their innermost thoughts- does that matter? Nate is a nice guy who doesn't help his wife enough. Alecia is a great mother who can also be a bitch, as several people point out. Bridget comes out of her grief- induced fog to push for the truth, when no one else does. What is justice in a small town? Can you trust the cops? What are kids really doing at the high school, or at parties? Why does Lucia see birds, and is she a victim or a wild child or both?