No Early Birds

By Ian McGillis

A review of No Early Birds by Edward O. Phillips

Published on April 1, 2001

No Early Birds
Edward O. Phillips

The Riverbank Press

Some writers make a point of trying out new settings, new perspectives and new themes every time out. These writers are applauded, sometimes deservedly so, for their adventurousness. Other writers find their turf and stick to it, finding challenge not in “newness” but in examining the same milieu from subtly different angles. These writers, too often, are undervalued, dismissed with a been there done that shrug. Edward Phillips belongs squarely to the latter group, and while he certainly has his following, he doesn’t really get the critical respect he deserves.

Westmount is Phillips’ beat, the social rituals of its aging affluent denizens his raw material. His new book is not one of his popular Geoffry Chadwick mysteries, which means that, without having to observe genre conventions, he’s even more free to let the story meander down character-driven eddies. A lot of what happens here is offstage, related through the protagonists’ reminiscences.

The action – if that’s the word – centers on a garage sale; widow Diana is selling her house and wants to lighten her load. Her old friend Louise flies out from Victoria to help out. Claire, once beautiful but now a little too “full-figured” is on the scene too, as are various offspring and old flames of varying sexual proclivity. Soon skeletons are tumbling from closets right and left.

It’s a tribute to Philips’ skill that he takes the mine-laden path of adopting a woman’s voice and makes it a complete non-issue, and that he handles the rarely dealt-with subject of late middle-aged sexuality in way that’s comical but never cheats his characters of their dignity.

Even if you’ve never gone to a dinner party on Summit Circle – even if you don’t care if you never do – No Early Birds is a diverting and even sneakily compelling read. I.M.

Ian McGillis writes about books and visual arts for the Montreal Gazette.



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