Over the course of one year, the nameless narrator in BROOD by Jackie Polzin cycles through grief as she cares for her four chickens: Gloria, Gam Gam, Miss Hennepin County, and Darkness. The challenges are daunting – brutal cold, scorching heat, determined predators, and an indiscriminate tornado. In the end she is no more able to save her brood than she was the child that she miscarried. She questions her relevance. She contemplates motherhood –she thinks she would have been a good mother and has trouble letting go of the possibility. Yet at the same time, she cannot bear the thought that other people might see her as someone who did not want children. She wanted them. And she believed she would have been a good one.
When confronting a racoon in the coop in the middle of the night, she comes alive, all her fierce instincts igniting a switch buried somewhere in the center of her grief. She swings a rake and growls at the racoon:
“I was not one bit afraid, or my fear was unrecognizable as such, pulsing like a thing outside me in the warm dark night. The air sparked with possibility. What would I do next? I rather hoped it would involve a feat of superhuman strength.”
BROOD is not a plot driven read, it is not really even about raising chickens or children. It is quietly reflective, a time capsule of a story about a woman coming to terms with childlessness.
BROOD brims with hope in the midst of grief and tenderness in spite of loss. “Life is the ongoing effort to live,” Polzin writes, “some people make it look easy. Chickens do not.” BROOD is an honest look at life, love, loss, and to some extent, chickens.
I recommend BROOD for fans of Ann Tyler, Fredrik Backman, and Elizabeth Strout. BROOD will be released on March 9 and is available for preorder from your favorite bookseller. Listen to my interview with Jackie Polzin on March 25 at 7:00 pm on Superior Reads.