Birds of a feather, it seems, will flock together eventually. Though it takes them three-fourths of the book to meet, the hero and heroine of Jim Paul's novel Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots are clearly made for each other from the start. David is an experimental poet, methodically writing nonsense verse that eschews logic and lyricism but wins him lucrative praise. He has just as methodically insulated himself from the outside world; he's lived in the same San Francisco apartment for years, has blocked out his window with bookshelves, wears earplugs while writing and scarcely ventures outdoors. Then, on a whim, David's father gives him an exotic parrot in a cage, and everything changes.
"By accident, a parrot had come into his life," the author writes, "and because of it this whole world had opened to him. Maybe the change had come because, after years of his labor and denial, he was poised to change, ready to crack open. Any small shift might have triggered it." It had to be a parrot, though, because that was the only thing that could lead David to Fern. Fern is a graduate student in biology who leaves her home in Tucson for the Ecuadorian wilds to study a rare species of parrot. Like David's, her life has grown too small, stifling. Before long both of them are breaking out of their cages to take wing. Their flight patterns ensure they'll meet, but the important thing in the novel is what happens to them along the way.
Parrots aren't the most common catalyst in fiction, but Paul infuses them with symbolism and romance enough to make you wonder why not. He's obviously done some heavy research, but he imparts it with an enthusiasm that's contagious. He manages to make the quest for an elusive flock of birds seem vital to the soul-happiness of both Fern and David. It sounds corny, and the romance angle does get a bit overwrought in the end, but it's an uplifting tale all the same. Becky Ohlsen writes from exotic Portland, Oregon.