HUMMINGBIRDS BE­TWEEN THE PAGES

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight University Press Nonfiction - KAREN RIGBY

Chris Arthur, Mad Creek Books (JULY) Soft­cover $23.95 (264pp), 978-0-8142-5484-4

In Chris Arthur’s mas­ter­ful, el­e­gant es­say col­lec­tion Hummingbirds Be­tween the Pages, ex­pan­sive and gran­u­lar med­i­ta­tions on time, lan­guage, na­ture, mor­tal­ity, and North­ern Ire­land cap­ture won­der in the ev­ery­day.

Tak­ing its ti­tle from a habit of set­tlers, who would mail the bod­ies of hummingbirds home as a proof of their ex­is­tence, these es­says present in­di­vid­ual topics as me­men­tos.

Whether con­sid­er­ing lesser-known facts, like Dar­win’s killing of a fox, or once com­mon­place ob­jects that lead to un­com­mon in­sights, such as a pocket watch that is twined with an il­lus­tra­tion of a pre­his­toric scene, these es­says sus­pend time with ease. Each page re­veals an at­ten­tive nar­ra­tive spirit that raises pro­found ques­tions on ex­is­tence with­out a trace of self-con­scious­ness.

In sev­eral es­says, loss takes cen­ter stage, in de­grees from un­re­mem­bered con­ver­sa­tions to a daugh­ter’s first ex­pe­ri­ence of death, a mother’s de­clin­ing health to a fleet­ing en­counter with an empty hearse on a univer­sity cam­pus. Such mo­ments glimpse the eter­nal within the “van­ished mo­ment.”

Es­pe­cially per­cep­tive es­says in­clude “Be­fore I Knocked,” in which a vin­tage post­card in­spires mus­ings on the un­known sender as well as the au­thor’s fa­ther and “Sleep­ers,” a re­flec­tion on a fam­ily’s an­thracite stove and hearth that morphs into an ex­pres­sion of Ul­ster’s handed-down val­ues.

With­out mag­ni­fy­ing their im­por­tance, Arthur fre­quently con­sid­ers the events re­quired as a ba­sis for any present mo­ment, skill­fully lo­cat­ing peo­ple and in­ci­dents on a his­tor­i­cal con­tin­uum to em­pha­size the un­seen forces that bind them. Through sin­gu­lar phras­ing and metic­u­lous de­scrip­tions, these es­says re­turn again and again to the un­likely mir­a­cle of be­ing alive.

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