Birdy (Magill's Literary Annual 1980)
In the universe created by human dreams, an entire world can be designed and inhabited. In some cases, the obsessive nature of the dream/fantasy can become the base out of which a fiction can be made. In William Wharton’s carefully structured first novel, one is introduced to the magical mind of “Birdy,” a character whose fantasies become the stuff of his actual life. Although one only meets Birdy through the eyes of his best friend, Al—a tough Sicilian kid who, like Birdy, grows up in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood before World War II—the long, detailed flashback sequences present enough material so that Birdy becomes as real as the memories that evoke his image.
Birdy is first met when his friend Al, a wounded soldier recently returned home at the end of the war, is called to the psychiatric ward of an army hospital. Al is asked to try and get his friend Birdy, also a veteran, to emerge from what seems to be a psychotic state of mind: an obsessive way of acting like a bird that has confounded Birdy’s psychiatrist. It appears that Birdy has retreated into a world known only to himself. Al sees Birdy clad in thin, white hospital pajamas, squatting birdlike in the middle of his cell. He does not speak to Al; in fact, he shows no sign of recognition. “The way he squats,” Al states, “you’d think maybe he just might spring up, flap his arms a few times and fly out that window he’s got his eye on.” Al senses that the only way...
(The entire section is 1563 words.)
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