Book Review

Parakeet by Marie Helene Bertino

Marie-Helene Bertino Steps Into a Surrealist Warp In New Novel ‘Parakeet’

Maria Chance
Jul 14th, 2022 5:09 pm

Marie-Helene Bertino’s Parakeet is a vortex of symbolism and metaphors. Through the main character known solely as The Bride, we are taken into a world that is very much like our own but one that teeters into surrealism. When we first encounter The Bride, she’s engaging in conversation with a parakeet whom she understands to be her dead grandmother.

She’s about to be married but is having some intense second thoughts. The pressure she feels, as her wedding day looms closer, begins to manifest in strange and surreal events: Her dead grandmother approaches her from the dead through a parakeet and tells her to find her brother; she encounters a woman that looks exactly like her, whose husband may or may not be a man she had an affair with years ago; she wakes up one day to find herself inhabiting her mother’s body.

As the narrative progresses, we come to learn that The Bride was once the victim of a shooting at a coffee house where she worked as a barista. Relentless, the perpetrator stabbed her repeatedly, leaving her in a pool of her own blood to be saved by paramedics. When she survives, months of physical rehab await her as well as the putting back together of a mind that has witnessed trauma.

These moments of surrealism and a couple of flashbacks allude to The Bride possibly getting married to this ordinary man because her trauma has pushed her into seeking safety. When describing her groom-to-be, The Bride doesn’t even know what to say about him, resorting to irrelevant descriptions like “he has all his hair” and “he doesn’t have to be drunk to dance” that hint at her own disinterest in him. Even at her own rehearsal dinner, The Bride gives a confusing, though profound and thought-inducing, speech that should’ve clued-in attentive guests to her wedding angst.

Does everyone love in a different way, like flavors? Mine is pistachio and someone else’s is chocolate cereal? Am I able to love stronger and more deliberately on command, or can love only be elicited? Are there limits? Are we born with a finite amount or is our capacity infinite? I’d bet that depends on the die [sic] you’re tossed around with and end up on the table next to. Chance. Is there a way to sharpen and refine love? And all the variations between the variations? If there is, I’d like to. Or I’d absolutely not like to. I’d like to know more about it before I decide.

— excerpt from Marie-Helene Bertino’s Parakeet

While the reader often stops to question if the moments of magical realism are happening in real life or just inside The Bride’s head, Bertino encourages the reader to just go with the flow. She offers no explanation for or against these odd, Twilight Zone moments, which only help to immerse the reader further into the surrealism, to accept the events as they evolve.

The symbolism found throughout is delicately handled, with the care of a writer who knows how to dig deep into her subconscious and access images and allegories which the reader can easily understand and relate to. In this way, Bertino fabricates a complex story that the attentive reader will relish as the narrative stimulates dormant parts of the mind, piecing together abstract images to build what would otherwise be an ordinary, dull story. Readers seeking a narrative that’s completely out of the ordinary will find what they’re looking for among the pages of Bertino’s Parakeet.

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About the reviewer

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Maria Chance
  • Freelance Developmental Editor
  • Book Reviewer & Editor

A self-proclaimed hermit and potential cat hoarder, Maria lives in Virginia where she writes, proofreads and copy edits as a freelancer. Her longstanding love affair with books began when her mother would fall asleep reading bedtime stories to her. (Don't worry; she was sure to wake her up so she could finish.) Now, as an adult, Maria struggles with a reading vice that has often threatened the hygiene of her home. On the few occasions that her nose isn't buried in a book, she enjoys exploring new cities, having margaritas with her sister, and curling up with a book--wait, what?