The Man Who Loved Birds

The Man Who Loved Birds: A Novel by Fenton JohnsonA Novel

The University Press of Kentucky
Kentucky Voices Series

“Brings a clear eye and unnerving sensibility to bear on how we live now . . . A wonderful novel, erudite, intelligent, and just as important, humane.”
   Rabih Alameddine, author of National Book Award finalist An Unnecessary Woman

A rogue Vietnam vet, a Trappist monk, and a Bengali immigrant doctor meet amid the daydream landscape of monastery forests and fields in this novel about the eternal conflict of love and the law.  Johnny Faye, who lives to tell a good story, teaches Brother Flavian and Dr. Meena Chatterjee how to love, radically transforming all they thought they believed about desire and duty, action and contemplation, reason and faith.  An anti-hero in a long American tradition, Johnny Faye makes a game of taunting the state police until he comes up against Henry Vetch, an ambitious district attorney for whom the law is a means not to justice but to power.  Their struggle leads to an end both inevitable and poignant.  At times funny and erotic, harrowing and moving, The Man Who Loved Birds is a quintessentially American story told through original and unforgettable characters.

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Watch Fenton reading from The Man Who Loved Birds at the University of Arizona Poetry Center:

Praise from Readers and Reviewers

The Man Who Loved Birds is a beautiful, improbable love story (the best kind) set in a timeless Eden called rural Kentucky as it slides into the modern era. Old ways clash with new, faith meets doubt, greed meets charity, immigrant adjusts to native and native to exotic. Johnson twins nature and sexual awakening with the intensity of a D. H. Lawrence. It’s a bold undertaking and only a native of those hills and hollows could make it sing with such conviction.”
   — Clark Blaise, author of Time Lord and Lunar Attractions
The Man Who Loved Birds brings a clear eye and unnerving sensibility to bear on how we live now, while looking at small town life in Kentucky during the Reagan years. This bird lover—sometimes a Jesus figure, other times a Bacchus, most times just a regular guy — will imprint himself unto your heart. A wonderful novel, erudite, intelligent, and just as important, humane.”
   — Rabih Alameddine, author of National Book Award finalist An Unnecessary Woman
The Man Who Loved Birds is a wonderful novel, full-hearted and rollicking and serious. The corrupt and the pure of heart can’t get out of each other’s way, in this wild mix of monks, dope growers, politicians, and one good doctor — set in a Kentucky landscape that is the verdant crossroads of greed and desire.”
   — Joan Silber, author of Fools

“The author has constructed a world of sensual beauty, a landscape that feels both natural and mystical, made more powerful as a place that teeters between paradise and tragedy.”
   — Jayne Moore Waldrop, Louisville Courier-Journal
“Edgy, often raw, original . . . arrestingly beautiful.”
   — Richard Taylor, former Kentucky Poet Laureate and author of Rare Bird: Sonnets on the Life of John James Audubon
“A valuable exploration of Kentucky from a historical perspective . . . a brilliant novel, in conception, in structure, in character, and in the writing itself.”
   — Lisa Williams, author of Gazelle in the House
“Only a native son of the Commonwealth could capture Kentucky’s colorful characters like Fenton. His rich, beautiful language and keen observation give shape to a story that becomes a gift to the reader.”
   — Bill Goodman, host of Kentucky Tonight and One to One on Kentucky Educational Television

“Fenton Johnson’s third novel, The Man Who Loved Birds, is a study of time, place and character. Set in the late 1980s during the Reagan administration, Johnson’s novel pits his characters against The War on Drugs with its ramifications on county politics and corruption.

“This is a layered and quiet novel that begins with an infraction — a Trappist monk, Brother Flavian, dallies in a bar where local outlaw, Johnny Faye, teaches him to play pool. But small infractions develop momentum. Johnny Faye, the titular character, is a significant member of a pot growing collective who evades the law much to the chagrin of the county attorney and the amusement of the county judge. He is a trickster character whose homespun wisdom charm not only Flavian, but also the town’s new doctor, Meena Chatterjee, a woman running from a mysterious past in Bengal, India. For all of Johnny Faye’s smooth talking charisma — his closing argument in the county’s case against him is masterfully manipulative — his one-on-one interactions with both Flavian and Meena in the monastery woods reveal a vulnerable man searching for connection. This connection, Brother Flavian and Meena soon realize, will irrevocably change their lives.

“Johnson, who teaches in the MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville. writes prose that is languid, sensual and sprawling. He develops his three main characters with pensive and subtle details that lead to startling connections and revelations. Their conflicts are believable and heart-wrenching, leaving the reader desperate for one or two more chapters to soothe the ache they leave behind.”
— Amy M. Miller, LEO (Louisville Eccentric Observer) Weekly