Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
The pandemic made our modern lives even more complicated and the thoughtful amongst us gained a new perspective on the nature of love, friendship, and what truly matters.
Sigrid Nunez, in her latest novel The Vulnerables, presents a profoundly gentle scenario where it emerges that virtually everyone has a vulnerability that often shapes behaviour.
Her college friends reunite and their discussions, especially of the vulnerable Lily and her coping skills, lead to the author’s eventually living in the New York of early Covid 19 days. She is accommodating another of the group’s need to have a sitter/carer for her macaw, Eureka. Iris, the aforementioned friend, because she is heavily pregnant, is anxious to avoid contact with the virus so has left her New York apartment.
Initially Eureka was cared for by a young student who had formed a deep attachment to the bird. The student is unreliable, so the author, who is a writer, takes up the role. She adapts to living with the bird which proves stimulating and surprisingly intelligent. Like many, she finds a caged bird difficult to accept, although Eureka has plenty of space, and walls that are painted to create a jungle.
The young man suddenly returns as he has been thrown out of his home. At first, they remain isolated and live separately within the apartment but gradually the barriers disappear and meaningful conversations ensue.
However, the plot is merely the background, not the most significant aspect of this novel.
That is the conversations and the recollections of the author and Vetch, the young man.
Their vulnerability is obvious, with the pandemic raging. She is over 65, he is a young student with serious mental health problems and the parrot is totally reliant on the good intentions of its carers. This extends to the consideration of how all living things tread this path to varying degrees.
The Vulnerables, although it is brief in length compared to many currently published novels, is rich in its content. This is, as authors such as Gunter Grass maintained, a chronicle of ‘professional remembering’. She and Vetch question and recall their pasts and together provide a deeply moving concept of relationships and their significance, in a time of loss and grief.
This is an exceptional novel in that it abandons the tired overwrought structure of the conventional.
Brief, succinct, wittily wise and thought provoking, it should be read more than once.
Unlike countless ‘best sellers’ it ignores the subjects of men and their failings as opposed to the emerging superiority of young, beautiful women!
It takes the brilliance of an author such as Sigrid Nunez to produce a work that is not just a story of a man, a woman and a parrot in a city apartment during the pandemic, but a fine examination of what it is to be a human being who, in spite of being vulnerable, is facing the world with hope.
Like the best loved of her eight previous novels The Friend, this latest work by Nunez is a literary treat.
by Sigrid Nunez
ISBN 978 034901 810 2