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Book Review: Jackie Polzin's 'Brood' Is A Moving Meditation About Loss And Life

My friend Carrie keeps chickens in her backyard in Wichita, and whenever she goes out of town, I volunteer to feed and check on them. Chicken sitting, I call it. It’s not a bad gig and comes with rewards, like the occasional fresh egg with a yolk so orange and creamy, it doesn’t even resemble the ones you get in the grocery store.

So I know a little bit about chickens and the people who love them. That’s why I picked up Jackie Polzin’s debut novel, Brood—a slender little story about one woman’s attempt to keep four chickens alive amid the frigid cold, searing heat and countless predators around her Minnesota home. It doesn’t sound like much of a premise for a novel, but the book uses that as a jumping-off point to address other, deeper issues.

The narrator is nameless but her chickens aren’t, and so we get to know Gloria and Gam Gam and Darkness and Miss Hennepin County. In caring for them, we learn about love and loss, trial and error. In one scene, the proprietor of a local feed store informs the narrator that she’s been feeding her brood all wrong—a diet so rich it amounts to 50% Twinkies—and the guilt sets in: “I never feel smaller than when I am filled with doubt,” the narrator says, “such a small, small feeling, it’s a marvel it can fill anything at all. Filled with doubt I shrink until I can hardly move, can do nothing but wait and see what happens.”

This novel reads like a quiet memoir or a daily devotional, in the vein of Marilynne Robinson or Elizabeth Strout. Polzin’s ruminations on chicken-rearing become a meditation on life, with all its joys, sorrows and lucky surprises. It’s a perfect little book for this hopeful spring season.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.