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Monday, October 11, 2010

Despite Erudite Observations, Hummingbirds Becomes Downright Dull

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Working at an all girls' prep school is an ideal - albeit dangerous - job for a man who loves women as much as Leo Binhammer. It's not that he's some kind of pervert, it's just that he feels most comfortable with females, who are always glad to lavish attention on the handsome, laidback young teacher. He enjoys the lighthearted banter of his flirtatious colleagues as well as the energy of his students who remind him of hummingbirds with "their delicate, overheated bodies fretting in short, angled bursts of movement around a bottle of red sugar water" (11). It's all a bit of harmless fun for the happily-married Mr. Binhammer.

Then, Ted Hughes enters the picture. Quite suddenly, Binhammer finds his Top Dog status threatened by the charismatic new teacher who's not only replacing Binhammer in the girls' hearts, but also has a surprisingly intimate connection to Mrs. Binhammer. By all rights, Binhammer should hate Hughes. Only, he doesn't. He can see exactly why the other man seems to have everyone wrapped around his little finger. Which only makes the situation more infuriating. Why should Hughes be allowed to march in and confiscate everything that rightfully belongs to Binhammer? It's not fair, no matter how charming the man is.

While Binhammer scrambles to regain his favored status, he has to contend with the silliness of his students, the mutiny of his colleagues, and his growing admiration for a man he should loathe. When revenge comes calling for Ted Hughes, Binhammer finds it's not as sweet as he would have anticipated. Isn't Hughes, after all, simply another victim of the complicated female world they both inhabit? How can a man ever hope to survive, he muses, with all "those women - women everywhere, each one a tropical island with hidden estuaries. How not to be a pirate in this extravagance?" (316). All Binhammer knows is this - it won't be quite the same without Hughes in it.

It's difficult to summarize Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord because, really, not a lot happens between Page 1 and Page 322. What little does occur is, by turns, depressing, disturbing, and just plain dull. Gaylord does excel at drawing characters; indeed, the novel reads like a collection of astute observations about the principle players rather than an actual story. His writing is undeniably fresh, erudite and funny. I wrote down several pages of quotations from the book, just for the sheer pleasure of reveling in his clever use of language. Unfortunately, adroit word choice wasn't enough to keep me interested in this rambling novel. A snail-paced plot coupled with smug, unhappy characters and creepy observations like

He has, of course, picured her naked - just as he has pictured all of his students naked at one time or another ... This is the great secret of all the teachers at Carmine-Casey and, Binhammer is sure, all the other high schools, public or private, in the world: there is a massive naked cocktail party going on in the head of every high school teacher (139).

turned this into a perturbing snorefest. If I hadn't committed to reviewing Hummingbirds for a blog tour, I would have put it down somewhere around Page 30, brilliant quotations be darned.

(Readalikes: I really don't know of any. Ideas?)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, depictions of underrage drinking/smoking, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Hummingbirds from the generous folks at Harper Collins. Quotes were taken from the uncorrected proof and may have been altered for the book's final printing. This review was written as part of a blog tour for TLC Book Tours.


  1. Aww man, don't you hate when a book has absolutely nothing going on for most of the book? I had a similar experience with the book "Awakenings" and the most action was in the end.

    Thanks so much for your reviews. I love how honest you are with them and its helps a retired reader like me get back into the swings of things! :)

  2. Sorry you didn't like this book - I'm also reading it for the book tour and liked it. It's not a top 5 read this year, but it was good/entertaining.

    I read this as Binhammer's story (Dixie being a bother to him) and seem to be in the minority for this one which is okay...

  3. I'm sorry that this one didn't work out so well for you. I'm still interested in reading it myself, if only for the writing and the character sketches - it sounds like the author did a great job in those areas.


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