THE UNDERBELLY OF PASSION AND OBSESSION — A Review of “Little Bird of Heaven”

In Joyce Carol Oates’s latest novel, Little Bird of Heaven: A Novel, the brutal slaying of Zoe Kruller, a young wife and mother, forms the central core to the story, with two major suspects: her estranged husband, Delray Kruller, and her long-time lover, Eddy Diehl.

Diehl’s daughter Krista and Kruller’s son Aaron become obsessed with each other, as, over the years, nobody is charged with the slaying, the murder goes unsolved, and each young person believes the other’s father is guilty.

“Told in halves in the very different voices of Krista and Aaron,” this tale shines a light on intense sexual love, the anguish of loss, and tenderness that is barely distinguishable from cruelty.

We meet the characters who play key roles in the underworld of drugs and crime, while glimpsing the vulnerabilities of each.

In the end, the secret of who actually killed Zoe Kruller is revealed, but it is almost anticlimactic. By then, so much misery has consumed and ruined the lives of some of the major players, leaving them empty and washed up. After years apart, when Krista and Aaron finally meet again for the big reveal, they are going through the motions. Krista has moved on with her life and developed into someone with opportunities while Aaron has seemingly stood still, stuck in that same place of bitterness and defeat.

What they had imagined about each other could never be. And the people they had become could no longer exist side by side in their old hometown.

When Krista walks away, finally, she is free at last. She has grown wings and can fly away–perhaps like “the little bird of heaven.”

In this story, there was so much depth and intensity that I found it difficult to keep reading for any length of time. I had to take breaks. And as I neared the end, I found myself speeding up, rushing the ending along, so I could escape the darkness of the characters and their sordid lives.

This is a book well worth reading, but not one that I would reread. Perhaps 4.5 stars.

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