In retellings of the story of Noah and his ark, a familiar refrain is the mocking Noah received from his fellow men when, in the midst of cloudless blue skies and sunshine, he set about building an enormous boat. What is often overlooked, however, is that the reaction of man was only half of the story. In Layne Maheu's debut novel Song of the Crow, the story of Noah is told from the perspective of an unexpected observer: a young crow named I Am. Through his eyes, the story of the flood is re-imagined from a hundred feet in the air.
From their lofty perches, the crows carefully observe but never fully understand the actions of the man below them. To the crows, Noah represents a roving ax intent on chopping down forests and destroying the trees they call home. His motivations seem especially indecipherable to I Am, whose first introduction to the beastman comes through the tremors that the tree-felling produces in his nest. For I Am, however, Noah evolves from an impending threat to a symbol of the misfortune he has been taught is his destiny and, as such, an opportunity for the crow to change the course of his fate. Maheu ushers us into the crows' world, revealing their secrets and language so that we, too, see the story of the flood from the vantage point of the open sky. Through the author's extensive research and examples of crow lore, I Am steals the show from Noah. When I Am cries for food in his mother's nest, we feel the urgency; when he describes his flights through the air, we are beside him. It is a testament to Maheu's gift and his ability to fully inhabit his narrator that the reader identifies more with I Am the crow than Noah the human. Song of the Crow is an enthralling tale that ignites the imagination and reminds us that even the most familiar story has two sides. Meredith McGuire writes from San Francisco.