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In Spring Green, Wisconsin, spinster sisters Milly and Twiss have spent their lives listening to heartbeats and heartaches, nursing birds and the people who bring them back to health.
Back in the summer of 1947, Milly and Twiss knew nothing about trying to mend what had been accidentally broken. Milly was known as a great beauty with emerald eyes and Twiss was a brazen wild child who never wore a dress or did what she was told. That was the summer their golf pro father had an accident that cost him both his swing and his charm, and their mother, the daughter of a wealthy jeweler, finally admitted that their hardscrabble lives wouldn't change. It was the summer their priest, Father Rice, announced that God didn't exist and ran off to Mexico, and a boy named Asa finally caught Milly's eye. Most unforgettably, it was also the summer their cousin Bett came down from a town called Deadwater and changed the course of their lives forever.
Rebecca Rasmussen's masterful debut novel is full of hope and beauty, heartbreak and sacrifice, love and the power of sisterhood, offering wonderful surprises at every turn. Beth Hoffman Interviews Rebecca Rasmussen
Beth Hoffman, author of the New York Times bestseller Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, talks about her experience of reading The Bird Sisters and interviews Rebecca Rasmussen.
Beth Hoffman: Every now and then a book falls into my hands that moves me to the point where I stop everything Im doing and devour the pages. The voice is always the first hook, then the characters and prose, and finally the story. To find such a book is exciting, and when I opened The Bird Sisters and began to read, I knew I was in for a wonderful experience. Rendered with a delicate but assured hand, this is a poignant and bittersweet tale that explores the joys and wounds of familial love and the shocking pain of betrayal. Rebecca Rasmussen has crafted a unique, beautiful debut novel, and Im delighted to chat with her about The Bird Sisters. Rebecca, the sense of place in your novel is lovely and fully actualized. What was the reason you chose the rural setting of Spring Green, Wisconsin?Rebecca Rasmussen: I am deeply attached to Spring Green, Wisconsin, which is where my father has lived since I was a girl. My brother and I would go back and forth between his house and my mothers, which was located in a small suburb of Chicago. For us, Wisconsin was magical. There we were able to swim in the river, cover ourselves in mud, and tromp through the woods. There we played with barn cats and snakes, lightning bugs and katydids. Ive always preferred rural landscapes to urban ones. Wild over tame. Its like the old bumper stickers from the 80s used to say: ESCAPE TO WISCONSIN.
Hoffman: Milly and Twiss are such unique, singular characters, have you known anyone like them? Rasmussen: My older brother and I are a lot like them. My brother is a great adventurer like Twiss, and I am more cautious like Milly. When we were kids, my brother was the one whod set off on all-day adventures in the woods, and I would straggle along behind him hoping not to get caught up in the tangle of pricker bushes behind our house. As weve grown older, weve grown a bit more moderate. He can sit still for a whole hour now, and I dont jump on his back when I sense danger nearby. We love each other the way Milly and Twiss do. I cant bear for him to be sad, and he cant bear it for me.
Hoffman: I took away from your story a certain symbolism of the damaged birds. What do they represent to you? Rasmussen: The novel began for me with lines I happened upon in an Emily Dickinson poem: These are the days when Birds come back/A very few--a Bird or two--/To take a backward look. I have always loved birds on a literal and metaphorical level, and like most children I was deeply fascinated with their ability to come and to go whenever they pleased. In the novel, the older Milly and Twiss have spent their lives nursing birds back to health, mostly because an ordinary starling struck their car at a fateful moment when they were young. On that day, the sisters no longer possessed the power to change their futures and so they took this little bird back to their leaning farmhouse, hoping it would recover from its injuries and take flight for them.
Hoffman: If you had to pick only one scene as your favorite, what would it be, and why? Rasmussen: One of the most wonderful things about small farming towns to me is when the townspeople gather together to celebrate something: a marriage, a graduation, or even the end of the summer in some places. Town fairs are especially magical to me. I love to think about spun sugar, apples in barrels, and pies sitting on checkered tablecloths. Put a town fair in a historical setting; add a little bit of quack medicine in the form of bathtub elixirs, a propeller plane, and a goat named Hoo-Hoo; and there you have it: the climax of the novel and also my favorite scene.
Hoffman: A debut novel is, for many writers, their heart and soul; we open a vein and give so much to our firstborn. What did it feel like to finally complete your story? Rasmussen: I was alone when I typed the last words, and it was very late at night. A part of me wanted to wake my husband and my daughter, to open a bottle of champagne, and to celebrate with the people I loved most in the world. What I ended up doing was taking a walk to the waterfall and millpond up the road. I remember the way the moon looked in the sky. I remember the sound of falling water. I remember the call of an owl high up in a tree. I remember the lightness of my heart, my feet. If giving birth to my daughter was the first great accomplishment of my life, finishing my book was the second.
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