Thursday, October 28, 2010

Umm…this isn’t autobiographical, is it?

I must say. I was a little wary of Hummingbirds after reading the synopsis in conjunction with the author bio. I will present both to you, in edited form, so you understand.


“…Seasons change and tensions mount as the students, longing for entry into the adult world, toy with their premature powers of flirtation. The deceptive innocence of adolescence becomes a trap into which flailing teachers fall, as the line between maturity and youth begins to blur.”


“Joshua Gaylord has taught at an Upper East Side prep school for the past ten years.”

A story about teacher/student flirtations written by a teacher just seems a little…too close to home.

But fortunately, that’s not all it was about. Hummingbirds peeks into the private life of a few conflicting characters. Two senior students—Dixie and Liz—who couldn’t be more opposite; and two male teachers—Leo Binhammer and Ted Hughes—who share the status of the only male teachers in an all-girl prep school. Dixie and Liz can’t stand each other because they’re so different. Dixie is more the superficial queen bee, while Liz is the intelligent type that sneers at Dixie’s lack of depth. But really, they each just feel threatened by the other as each sees characteristics in the other that she lacks. And Leo and Ted…well, the thing is, Leo’s wife once had an affair with an academic dude at an academic conference. Turns out, it was Ted, and Leo puts the pieces together and realizes this. But Ted doesn’t. So our Mr. Binhammer—the real main character of this novel—feels really threatened and inferior but forges a bond with Mr. Hughes in that self-torturing, sadistic kind of way. And it’s like you’re just waiting for things to explode.

I only had one real problem with this. Thanks to the author’s bio being so similar to the characters he was writing, and the big picture of him featured on the back cover, I had a really hard time picturing anyone other than Joshua Gaylord as Leo Binhammer. It’s like when you the film version of a book and the image of the actors are afterwards inextricably linked to the characters they play.

It’s clear Gaylord is such a literary nerd, and I would’ve killed to have him as an English teacher in high school (my high school’s English department was embarrassingly weak). He peppers his novel with literary references to novels and authors and poems…such a booknerd’s dream! The characters he crafted are interesting because…well none of them are really interesting. They’re just insecure individuals who inevitably dwell on details—meaning, they’re self-centered in that way in which they’re concerned about how they appear (to others) in any given situation. And in each duo, the conflicting characters were kind of the antithesis of each other. Such a lot that could be analyzed in Mr. Binhammer’s English class.

Bottom line: solid literary fiction. And hopefully not autobiographical.

This is a stop on Hummingbirds‘ TLC Blog Tour. For a list of its other stops, visit here.

1 comment:

Steph said…

I have an old ARC version of this book that I snagged from work and which I still have not read and I don't think it has an author picture on it. So hopefully that will help me not think of the author as the main protagonist when I read it… Otherwise I might get too skeeved out!