The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan

A couple of years ago, author and journalist Stephen P. Kiernan made his fiction debut with his novel The Curiosity. That book, about a man reanimated from death, showcased Kiernan's aptitude for a creative character driven story that defied the confines of traditional genres and left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of readers. In his sophomore novel, The Hummingbird, Kiernan trades in the high concept premise of his debut for a more intimate narrative that is remarkably understated, but equally affecting.

Deborah Birch is no stranger to death. As a hospice nurse, she helps people and their families to pass over with dignity, compassion, and peace. Shepherding her patients to the other side brings Deborah slices of insight about life, family, and love, all of which she relates to her own life and to those of future clients. But all of her past experiences have done little to prepare her for the challenges that she currently faces. Deborah's husband, Michael, is a war veteran who is struggling to acclimate to his life outside of the military. Three tours as a sniper in the Middle East have left him a shell of his former self and caused a rift between him and his wife. Anger issues caused from PTSD only magnify the fear and uncertainty in the couple's rocky relationship. Try as she might, Deborah can't seem to break through to the man she loves so deeply.

The challenges are only intensified when Deborah enters the home of her latest patient Barclay Reed. The former history professor is facing an incurable illness that will soon end his life. He spends his days alone in his sizable estate on the Pacific Coast, thinking back on his academic career and the disgrace that led to its demise. Ridiculous demands and an abrasive temper have made it impossible for Reed to keep a hospice nurse for more than one day at a time. As the fourth nurse from her company to attend to Reed's needs and with no surviving family to intervene, Deborah is his last hope.

Slowly, a mutual trust and understanding begins to form. Reed is a bitter and jaded old man, but underneath that hardened exterior lies a fiercely intelligent man full of knowledge and wisdom about history and life. As Deborah and Reed grow closer, they begin to share about their lives. Deborah tells him of the problems with her husband, and Reed tells her of the last book he was working on. This book, about a Japanese pilot bomber in WWII, was deemed as fabricated plagiarism by Reed's colleagues and became a scandalous end to his distinguished career. As Reed approaches his final days, he has Deborah read from this book and wills her to come to her own opinion about its validity.

Kiernan's quietly nuanced writing paints a breathtaking portrait of life, death, and human interaction. The novel alternates between the present day story of Deborah and Reed with the story of the Japanese WWII pilot seeking redemption from his actions in the war. This alternating narrative device seems to be quite popular in literary fiction these days, but can sometimes make a novel disjointed and difficult to follow. Fortunately, the two stories of this book weave effortlessly with each other as the story of the past becomes a kind of metaphor for the one that is presently unfolding. Kiernan takes what could easily have been a sappy, sentimental tale and elevates it to a deeply moving experience that will stay with you long after the final page. With this poignant novel, Kiernan eclipses the success of his previous effort and reaches a maturity that cements his place as one of the top authors writing today.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2015, 26)

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3 Responses to “The Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan”

  1. Oh wow this definitely does sound like a very emotional book which centers on the circle of life and its meanings. I can imagine that all of those characters are developed so well and that the conversations may really reach deep down, especially when it also comes to having an accurate portrayal of PTSD.

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  2. I agree Olivia. It was very refreshing to see these tough subjects talked about with such honesty and sensitivity. Thanks for stopping in!

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  3. I really liked Kiernan's first novel so I'm anxious to read this one. I just need to find the time......sigh.

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