I review Tamara Dietrich’s stunning debut The Hummingbird’s Cage.
A dazzling debut novel about taking chances, finding hope, and learning to stand up for your dreams…
Everyone in Wheeler, New Mexico, thinks Joanna leads the perfect life: the quiet, contented housewife of a dashing deputy sheriff, raising a beautiful young daughter, Laurel. But Joanna’s reality is nothing like her facade. Behind closed doors, she lives in constant fear of her husband. She’s been trapped for so long, escape seems impossible—until a stranger offers her the help she needs to flee….
On the run, Joanna and Laurel stumble upon the small town of Morro, a charming and magical village that seems to exist out of time and place. There a farmer and his wife offer her sanctuary, and soon, between the comfort of her new home and blossoming friendships, Joanna’s soul begins to heal, easing the wounds of a decade of abuse.
But her past—and her husband—aren’t so easy to escape. Unwilling to live in fear any longer, Joanna must summon a strength she never knew she had to fight back and forge a new life for her daughter and herself….
Male violence. So many of us women have been on the receiving end of it. Joanna’s husband, Jim, is one of those typical abusive bastards. It starts off small, then builds and builds. Why doesn’t she leave? You may ask. But these abusers are clever. They cut you off from your friends, your family; anyone who cares about you. They make you give up work and accompany you everywhere you go. You get trapped in a cycle – or, as Dietrich says, a downward spiral. Joanna is trapped in such a spiral, with no hope of getting out.
“Put a frog in a pot of boiling water and he will jump out at once. But put him in a pot of cold water and turn up the heat by degrees and he’ll cook to death before he realises it.”
Dietrich describes the violence and horror that Jim inflicts on Joanna with brutal honesty. Although she is battered and bruised, her body abused, the emotional scars are the ones that run deep. One day, with the help from an unexpected source, Joanna gathers the courage to throw her daughter, Laurel, into the car and run. Despite Jim’s best efforts to stop her, not only with controlling behaviour but also sneaky sabotages, Joanna gets on the road, and wakes up in an old house, tended to by Jessie and Olin, a couple who seem out of touch with the modern day.
Joanna meets a host of characters during her stay in Morro, each one seeming to heal a small part of her, inspiring her to face her past, to confront Jim and his abuse.
I’m going to keep quiet about Morro, and the twists that Joanna encounters, but I will say that you probably won’t expect what happens. The links to Native American folklore and legend, the deep connection to the landscape, and the vivid imagery all help to create this magical setting. There’s more to Morro than meets the eye, and Joanna uses the place to rest, mend, become strong.
The Hummingbird’s Cage is a haunting debut, beautifully written, and not shying away from the unsavoury. Because domestic violence happens – it happens every day, whether you see it or not. And tackling it should not be shied away from. It’s literature like this that shows the abused that they are not alone, that they are understood, that they can, someday, be free. That we are not always victims; we are survivors. And we can fly.