And Your Bird Can Sing
Bottom Dog Press
Robert Miltner’s And Your Bird Can Sing captured me as soon as I had read the last line of the first story, “We Can Work It Out.” These stories are all inspired by, and named after, Beatles songs. I imagine Miltner sitting with his pen in hand, leaning over a desk, and staring into the deckled, yellowed pages of an old leather notebook, The Beatles amplified over aged speakers throughout the room. A number of the stories end abruptly, as if Miltner allowed himself one more sentence and then simply lifted his pen as each song came to an end. Miltner crafts his stories with a seemingly simple yet arched complexity that develops from an attentive understanding of John, Paul and George’s unique storytelling, and the author’s caustic handling of social and political absurdity through satire has culminated in a brilliant collection.
Only 30 pages into the collection, I was stunned and inspired by Robert Miltner’s use of subtle, descriptive devices that stimulate our emotional sensitivities, not only as a means to feature our surroundings but also as a means of exposing our sentimentality through the use of his ingenious poetic metaphor as often illustrated in "Drive My Car," the second story of the collection.
“Savoy Truffle” characterizes the demands of our society for plastic. Miltner’s characters, Jody and Will, suffer the implanted ideas of consumerism by a society that corrupts their understanding of success and accomplishment, and the two are left dismantling not only what they believe to be divine within themselves but also the idea of perfection and self-image. In one way or another, we can all relate with Miltner’s exaggerated account of suburban life. Some aspects, however, may be closer to home than many of us might be willing to admit, as is portrayed in the following excerpt: “Will and Jody go back home to the new two-story house in their development, Willow Crossing, surrounded by oceans of grass and no trees, looking carefully for their house number so they can tell their house apart from the others on the block. As they enter, a golden retriever whose name they do not know—hello, boy they say—waits in the living room ...” Contradiction and consumerism—brilliant.
And Your Bird Can Sing is an expression of Robert Miltner’s capacity as a writer, and no story describes enthusiasm and sorrow in this collection better than “Penny Lane.” Miltner’s usage of abstraction and metaphor to depict both the elation felt and the passing of time is evident in a simple, yet beautiful utterance: “while the leaves fall from trees out of sheer excitement.” The excitement is expressed upon witnessing presidential hopeful, John F. Kennedy, driving by in his convertible caravan as he campaigns in Ohio. A sixth grader recalls the moment as if “a lone Roman candle has gone off, one bright burst of sound and light and significance.” The same young sixth grader, only four years later, then recalls a similar feeling while watching President John F. Kennedy’s caravan in Dallas, Texas, as a, “second burst of sound like another Roman candle … tearing a hole in the fabric of [my] childhood."
As I finished the book, I applauded Miltner’s storytelling abilities via my own peals of laughter. I sat staring at the acknowledgments, slightly disoriented still from my appreciation of the stories that I had just read. When I realized that I had finished the book, I was neither excited nor upset. I simply laid the book on the table, nodded my head, and pictured reading it aloud to friends and family, picking through the stories as if playing "eeny, meeny, miny, moe." Recitations while driving, walking through the park, or playfully riding the merry-go-round after years of being "too old"—the stories soon lent themselves as accompaniment to imaginative escapades.
With every story, Miltner exercises incredible descriptive foresight and leaves nothing on the table. There is no way to know what to expect from page to page—the author has created a collection of short stories that rivals nearly any that I’ve read. The stories range in length from half a page to nine pages (most are closer to one or two), so finishing them on the bus or subway ride to work or your lunch hour is completely plausible. And Your Bird Can Sing will remain a collection that I’ll never forget and will sit bedside or on my writing desk until I unwillingly leave it on the coffeehouse table or sorrowfully part with it when placing it in someone else's hands.
Everyone must read this book.
Bonner is an author and writer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bonner has been writing for the better part of ten years, and he is aiming to release a collection of short stories in the Fall of 2015.