A Gathering of Finches (#16/50)

When people find out I love to read, they often ask me, “What’s your favorite type of book?” There aren’t many genres I actively dislike, although I favor some over others. If I had to pick just one genre of book to read for the rest of my life, it would be historical fiction – stories based in fact, then embellished to either fill in the gaps or make the retelling a little more interesting.

Title – A Gathering of Finches

Author – Jane Kirkpatrick

Page count – 381

This book tells the story of Cassie Hendrick Stearns Simpson, who grew up on the East Coast then makes the journey out West to the still-developing wilderness of coastal Oregon. It’s told mostly from Cassie’s perspective, but toward the end other characters’ thoughts interject – a style I usually dislike but which was done effectively here.

The title of this book comes from the meaning of the word “charming.” It can refer to either a pleasant and likeable personality trait, or to a group of finches. Cassie’s life seems – to an outsider – to be pleasant and delightful, full of sociable activity and free from any material want. A look inside Cassie’s mind shows that, more often, her life resembles the cacophonous flurry of a gathering of finches. This book deals with a variety of topics, from gender roles and marital infidelity to Prohibition and the growth of America during the Industrial Revolution. But more importantly, readers must ask themselves the same questions that plague Cassie – what does it mean to love another person? And how do you coordinate your own needs and desires with those of the people around you?

I don’t have a lot of “favorite quotes” in this book. The way it’s written simply doesn’t cater to that. There is, however, one passage in which Cassie makes a wise comparison:

“Relationships are very like a garden. They must be tended often, weeds pulled while young and not ignored. Seeds must be watered and watched daily after planting, celebrating their push through cobbled soil. It cannot be the idea of a thing, the vision of oriental ponds and rose-covered arbors with little girls in white dresses dwarfed by hydrangeas. It must be the work of it, the place where fingernails are chipped and dirtied by the digging.

Along the rugged coastland of tangled vines and trees, tending a garden took discipline and effort. I do not remember when I allowed the weeds to overtake mine.” (p. 249)

The metaphorical lesson here: If you’re not willing to tend the garden, you probably shouldn’t plant it.


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