Adam Novy is the author of a novel, The Avian Gospels, published by Hobart. His work has been published in Dossier, The Believer, The Collagist, The Denver Quarterly, and American Letters and Commentary.
“The Avian Gospels has the potential to become a cult classic.”
"The Avian Gospels is about the birth and death of a religion, the birth and death of a city and the people in it. Novy's novel explores the way that myth is made and unmade, and is an impressive debut.''
"I have seen the horrors of broken fidelities to kin and creed, brutal sights of carnage and betrayal. But I have also seen soaring, beautiful, sculptures sights never before imagined or dreamt. I blame Adam Novy for all of this.''
We’re dealing today with a story of a long-standing dictatorship, a city in flames, people streaming into the streets to rise up against their oppressive government, and that government’s attempts to crush the rebellion. And I’m not talking about Cairo. The Avian Gospels is a hell of a good dystopian novel that may seem eerily prescient regarding recent events, but resonates even more so in light of past forays into the Middle East in the last decade. It’s a strange, surreal, and fascinating ride.
A father and son (Swedes — or are they Gypsies?) live in an unnamed city in some unnamed country that borders Oklahoma. A war with Turkey does not unseat a Stalin-like Judge from power. His thugs, called RedBlacks, share their leader’s love of torture to extract information. Gypsies (or are they Norwegians?) are heavily oppressed and live in a network of tunnels under the city.
Ever since the war, a plague of birds has settled on this bleak urban landscape, and the avian congestion is especially thick on the grounds of the Judge’s enormous and echo-filled mansion. The father and son have the unusual and spectacular inborn ability to make the birds do their will: the son organizes them by color to form grand animated formations in the sky.
No one knows why the birds are there or what they mean. Are they the return of those who died in the war? Are they a plague brought down upon an unjust land in need of regime change? “We suspected,” the unnamed narrator says, “that we deserved the birds.” Add to this surreal cocktail the action-filled plot of revolutionaries and arson, all packaged in two beautiful Bible-like volumes, complete with rounded corners and gilt page ends. It all, strange enough to say, works together wonderfully.
The events of the last ten years — not to mention the events of the last month — make uneasy reverberations in this novel: a green zone, spider holes, “bring it on,” a city filled with murals of the ruling family on the walls, coffins buoyed up by protesting crowds, the political need to use fear to inspire coherence to what is going on — cast their shadow over this novel. While not directly referring to any particular war, terrorist event, or military action, the novel gives a disturbing sense of all of these, a deftly-unsettling story that is a sublimation of the chaotic handling of the policy of regime change and terrorism-management.
That certainly is a lot to chew on, but the power of the prose moves you through, shifting from the people at the forefront of the gathering resistance movement to those tightly holding the reins of a land rolling full-speed off a cliff. On both sides it’s a brutal tale of mislaid and misused power. Novy’s writing is deliberate, controlled, and the narrator, who tells this story long after these events took place, keeps a certain remove from the characters’ points of view, keeping us ever in sight of the greater landscape — a bird’s-eye view — that shows the overarching results of their actions.