The summer that Pigeon is five, her father leaves, her mother moves the family in with her heretofore never mentioned brother, and Pigeon loses the ability to trust that the people she loves will be there for her when she needs them. Narrated by adult Pigeon, who is writing down her recollection of the summer in hopes that it will explain and heal her trust issues, this is a poignant and well-done story of a little girl too young to fully understand the changes to her family but old enough to internalize them forever.
Pigeon is significantly younger than older sister Dove and older brother Robin. Her charming naivete fits her age but in some ways she's also mature beyond her years. When the family moves into Uncle Edward's beach home, Pigeon latches onto her handsome and utterly appealing uncle as a father substitute, not understanding that Edward is not only completely unprepared to take on a family and live up to his promises but that he is struggling with his own identity. In addition to Pigeon's yearning for either or both her father and her elusive uncle, she watches her mother and her siblings as they grow, change, and adjust to the loss of their previous lives. When her mother brings home a new boyfriend and subsequently falls under the thrall of a shyster evangelist, her limited attentions toward Pigeon cease almost entirely.
And so five year old Pigeon is essentially on her own, watching as her sister works her first job, falls in love, and has an affair, listening as Dove confides in her. She sees her young brother Robin sink into the fortune-telling business with a woman who offers him more attention than he is receiving at home. And she learns through benign neglect that even family cannot be counted on, especially when they are all wrapped up in the disappointments of their own lives.
The book is a slim one but the length belies the depth. Markson has touched on issues of parenting, love, family, and childhood in her slight novel. Her touch is light and despite the potential for this to be just another dysfunctional family novel, it isn't really. The elements are there but Pigeon as narrator keeps the feel light. And though the novel is framed by adult Pigeon, the bulk of the story is of her fifth summer, the summer that formed so much of her personality and beliefs, and therefore from her childish, innocent perspective. This is an easy, quick read but one that will make the reader consider the unintended effects of the adult world on children. The writing, the feel of the story, and the endearingly naive and at the same time precocious narrator combined to make this an unexpected story. I rather enjoyed it.