A Thing With Feathers
by J. John Nordstrom
The Writing Collective

"Their gaze converged, leaving him feeling placed in front of a doorway through which Fate wanted them both to go."

Struggling writer, Jonah Q. Cincinnatuski, Jr. is depressed and suicidal. Having left the high-powered world of law, a profession he abhors after more than a decade in Washington, D.C., he is searching to find his voice—specifically, his muse. Jonah is a romantic soul, and at forty, he still holds on to the hope that he will one day find his soul mate. He is a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, with whom he shares both a birthday and physical characteristics. He also has a special connection with Emily Dickinson, as his first claim to fame as a poet came at the age of fourteen when he was inspired to write an ode to the poet after a school trip to the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst. Unfortunately, his later efforts at writing only produce rejection slips. His tenant, Phyllida, an assistant at the Ithaca County Public Law Library, offers him a way to stay financially afloat while still having time and energy to write. But there is a catch: the law library superintendent and "Queen Bee" is a man-hating lesbian who, to maintain her control, only hires weak, submissive, compromised women and effeminate gay men.

Jonah decides to take the job and so begins his ruse. He is a wonderful addition to the library, and the patrons love him for his kind helpfulness. When Phyllida can no longer take the stress of the sexual advances of the Queen Bee, she quits. Though he is perfect for the vacant position, a plan is put in place to get rid of the now openly heterosexual Jonah. Twenty-seven-year-old Julia is hired as Jonah’s superior in the belief that he will leave the library in a rage. However, from their first meeting, Jonah and Julia become fast friends, a friendship that grows into much more. In fact, Jonah is convinced that he has found his Emily, his muse. Sensing her iron-clad grip on the law library beginning to loosen, the Queen Bee tries to convince Julia that Jonah is merely a con artist only interested in sleeping with the much younger woman. Julia becomes confused and distant, but through the help of Poe and Dickinson who come to him in his dreams, Jonah attempts to rebuild what the Queen Bee tries to destroy.

Written in both prose and poetry, this is a lovely novel of literary genius. Nordstrom strikes the perfect balance of both literary forms, with much of his prose having a distinctly poetic bent. The main character’s infatuation with Dickinson and Poe plays heavily in the plot as Jonah not only possesses Poe’s penchant for poetry and Romanticism but also resembles him physically. Jonah’s love poetry to Julia, his muse, is a delightful touch, and Nordstrom possesses the ability to write love poems that don’t come off as overly sentimental. The dreams that Jonah has of Dickinson and Poe, who appear in the novel almost like spiritual guides to his love life, are wonderfully intuitive. For instance, Dickinson tells Jonah in a dream, “Only Julia, as your literary soulmate, can determine, by your own poetry written for her, if your heart is true. If your soulmate’s heart is poisoned against you, your own personal poetry is the only antidote.” The poet gives Jonah a way back into Julia’s heart after she has been made to doubt his sincerity.

This book, however, is much more than a love story. It is a commentary on the state of the world. Statements about corporate and political greed, prejudice, and hatred are threaded throughout the novel. “The Law had devolved either into a mere transaction, to be bought and sold to the highest bidder or into a defenseless damsel, to be raped into submission by the more powerful.” Jonah and Julia represent the pure of heart, holdovers from the age of the Romantics when one’s heart was poured into verse, and there still existed a belief in soulmates and honor. Nordstrom’s work evokes a range of emotions and leaves readers believing in something precious that is sorely missing in the fast-paced, modern world.

A 2022 Eric Hoffer Book Award Montaigne Medal Finalist and da Vinci Eye Finalist

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