Recently I have been lucky to receive books for review that discuss female issues. For a long time, such issues were not openly discussed in the books that I was reading, and it was not that long ago that I first encountered stories that talk about miscarriage and the uglier and traumatic side of womanhood. This has been my individual reading experience; I am sure that a lot of you have read more widely and diversely. However, this is something new for me, and I am cherishing every story that shows me that I, as a woman, am not alone and that my past, present and future experiences are shared throughout the world by other women and their stories. Brood by Jackie Polzin is one such story.
Brood is told from the perspective of a nameless narrator. The story takes place within a year when we see the narrator trying to keep her brood of hens alive. She has four chickens: Gloria, Gam Gam, Darkness and Miss Hennepin County. Her fight is constant and her enemies many. Nature, predators and even the chickens themselves pose a threat against these fragile lives and we see the constant worry that surrounds bringing up a life of any kind in this world. Through a series of short retrospections, we learn that the narrator has suffered a miscarriage later in life and we also see how this loss has shaped her current life.
There isn’t much in the way of a plotline or a story in Brood. Instead, we get a random selection of episodes. The narrator is primarily concerned with her chickens, her cleaning job, her broker friend and her husband, Percy, who although present in the book seems to be always absent from the action. There isn’t much in the way of chronology either. It is as if the narrator decides to describe whatever has popped into her mind at that very moment. It is through this haphazard narrative that we learn the scarce information about her life, her chickens, and the loss she has suffered. Her miscarriage although depicted in a succinct manner has affected and shaped, not surprisingly, a lot of aspects of her life. Her decision to get chickens and her decision to stop working for a while have been influenced by her miscarriage and her realization that she will never experience motherhood. It is not surprising that she has adopted four chickens and she tries her hardest to give them life and make sure they survive. However, no spoilers, the ending of the book does justice to the themes Polzin explores in her novel.
The book has many strengths. The depictions of the narrator are beautiful and nature really comes to life when she talks about it. The trauma, loss and coming to terms with heart-breaking realisations that the narrator experiences are handled with empathy and humour and really stand out. Polzin’s writing felt genuine and sincere. With this said, I did not enjoy the novel as much as I thought I would. Despite the great writing, the narrator simply felt too detached and distant from me and I failed to become invested in her. Her story, although important and interesting, was not that engaging maybe because we never get to learn that much about anyone within the novel. I also wished there was a bit more personality to the chickens themselves; the blurb really makes it seem as if the book will give us more than it actually does when it comes to the animals.
However, with this said, I am just one reader among many, and this is where the beauty of literature can be found. I am positive that Brood will be a book that stays with many readers for the rest of their lives. The prose is beautiful, the themes are important and there is humour to soften the pain and loss, so I would encourage people out there to spend some time with Brood and experience Polzin’s writing for themselves.
Brood is available now, published by Pan Macmillan