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Sideways Review: A Mantra

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Benjamin Woodard

on The Bird Artist

by Howard Norman


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God gave me a small gift to help me clarify my world.

These twelve words, uttered by artist/murderer Fabian Vas, are lifted from page 249 of Howard Norman’s novel, The Bird Artist. It’s odd that the author chose to bury such a powerful message so deep within his text.

Yes, this phrase is spoken somewhat in jest by Fabian, and yes, it is part of a larger whole. But is there not a kernel of truth behind every joke? Did Norman not pluck these words from the ether for a reason?

It all begs for meditation.

*  *  *

God gave me a small gift to help me clarify my world.

For creativity brings with it a charmed existence. The artist possesses a unique skill set, one that allows not only interpretation and reflection of daily existence, but also the ability to shape evidence into a product of beauty.

Who but the artist is able to communicate both truth and escape in the same breath?

I’m not a fan of inspirational jargon. Truly, I’m not. And my religious devotions have long ago lapsed. But when I read Fabian’s statement, I am reminded exactly why, as a writer, I park myself in front of a keyboard for hours on end, exactly why I torture myself over language.

What else could I do?

*  *  *

God gave me a small gift to help me clarify my world.

I scrawled this on the back of a faded receipt. It now stares me down on a daily basis, snared between the teeth of a silver memo clip on my office desktop, the lone mantra among a mash of toys, books, Wiffle balls, notepads, and CDs.

When I lose sight, I glance at my faded receipt.

And then I keep working.

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Benjamin Woodard is currently enrolled in the MFA in Writing program at VCFA. You can read his recent straight-er book reviews at Rain Taxi Review of Books.

 ~

The Bird Artist
Howard Norman
Farrar, Straus & Giroux
1994


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