How life as one knows it can come to a screeching halt in an instant is at the heart of “Bird in Hand,” a new novel by Christina Baker Kline.
Alison and Charlie, and Ben and Claire, two married couples who have known one another since college days, didn’t see it coming — how could they? — didn’t see how everything would change when Alison is involved in a car accident that results in the death of a child.
The idea that everything can change in a moment — accepting a last-minute drink at a party to celebrate the publishing of Claire’s novel, the spilt second when another vehicle fails to stop at an intersection; the fact that Alison is lost and driving unfamiliar streets, that the child in the other car was not wearing a seat belt, that small, seemingly innocent, decisions add up to the critical mass underlying the tragedy. This is the backbone of “Bird in Hand.”
Claire and Ben live in the city; Alison and Charlie live in a suburb of the city. Their lives, though very dissimilar, are enmeshed and intertwined in ways that will snake out into awful reality in the aftermath of the accident.
Each character tells the story, from his or her perspective, of the night of the accident and the fallout that ensues, in chapters that weave in and out of the present.
The characters are indelibly changed in ways they never could have imagined as their lives, seemingly so perfect, begin to unravel.
Claire will have to revisit the miscarriage she suffered a few months earlier. Ben will have to grapple with the fact that fatherhood isn’t in his future with Claire. Alison will have to find a way to bear the weight of guilt and grief, and examine the growing distance in her relationship with Charlie. And Charlie will have to own up to his own bad behavior and the fact that he hates his job.
Kline, who grew up in Bangor, examines in “Bird in Hand” what lies beneath the surface of urban and suburban lives. She creates characters that evoke the reader’s sympathy for the frailty and strength they display as they come to terms with what is, what must be and how they must adjust to harsh new realities.
Christina Baker Kline is the author of “The Way Life Should Be,” “Desire Lines” and “Sweet Water.”