Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie

Scribner. Jan. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9781501198502. $27. NAT HIST
British author Gilmour, son of poet and dramatist Heathcote Williams, struggled for years to establish a relationship with the parent who abandoned him. Fostering a newly hatched magpie provides Gilmour with insights into the complex demands and rewards of parenting, both human and avian. Searching for and dreading genetic and psychic links to his absent father, Gilmour explores his own weaknesses, values, and strengths, and comes to recognize what he has gained from the family his mother and adoptive father drew him into. One of his strengths is a talent for descriptive writing. He brings readers into a number of physical and psychological habitats occupied by Heathcote or himself, portraying sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures displayed from what he imagines as a bird’s point of view as well as his own. His memoir is populated by close observation of and information about weather, the environment, plants, and animals as well as “moments of mental volatility” displayed by the central characters. “Nurture trumps nature” is one of Gilmour’s conclusions on the questions of parenting.
VERDICT This reflective memoir will engage a variety of readers, and will be of great interest to anyone who has ever considered parenting, human or avian.

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