Love & Ordinary Creatures: a Novel by Gwyn Hyman RubioPosted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on December 18, 2014
Gwyn Hyman Rubio is a bestselling author known for her novel Icy Sparks, an Oprah’s Book Club pick in 2001 and one of the New York Times’ Notable Books in 1998. Her new book Love & Ordinary Creatures from Ashland Creek Press is about a cockatoo named Caruso who is in love with his human companion, Clarissa, whom he tries to protect from the world. Like a young human in love, Caruso is both charming and destructive because he realizes the impermanence of love and fears his feelings will never be returned in full measure.
Parrots are extremely bright, and research indicates they have some understanding of human language. “Due to their intelligence and curiosity, cockatoos are always getting into comic situations,” Gwyn says. She says they are known as “the clowns of the parrot world.” They form deep bonds with their human companions, and “if they feel neglected they will pluck out their feathers. All birds, in fact are thinking and feeling creatures.”
That’s why an intense imaginative bond isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary for cockatoos, who tend to bond with one person. Gwyn got the idea for Love & Ordinary Creatures on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia with her husband. The couple noticed a young woman on a bike with a sulfur-crested cockatoo. When the woman puckered her lip, the bird reached out for a kiss—a tender gesture recognized easily by those who live with companion animals. “I turned to my husband and said, ‘That’s one bird in love,'” Gwyn recalls. And thus, Caruso was born, a romantic hero in the form of a parrot. Clarissa’s boyfriend becomes for Caruso a romantic rival. And so with this worry in his breast, Caruso begins the hero’s journey, driving the plot forward, to make sure Clarissa is safe from harm.
In many ways, Gwyn notes, cockatoos are like humans—“in the wild, they are social creatures, flying in flocks and speaking their own special language. Highly intelligent and long-lived, they mate for life. They raise their young together and will sacrifice their own lives in order to save their chicks from predators.” And that’s very much like Caruso, the hero.
The novel also gives insight into the life of a caged bird. Captive animals behave, and suffer, in such different ways than wild animals. “When caged, they can become neurotic,” Gwyn explains. And that’s what Gwyn is capturing here in Love & Ordinary Creatures. “They will bond with one person in a family and will feel and express jealousy if they view another as a rival. Should the relationship with their human companion be threatened, they will resort to highly dysfunctional behaviors, such as feather plucking or gouging their flesh with their beaks, in order to relieve emotional distress, not unlike self-abuse among humans. In their desperation to adapt, caged cockatoos can become confused and lose their identity or their birdness.”
“Most of us have experienced, at one point in our lives, the anguish of unrequited love, and so I reasoned that readers would be able to identify with Caruso’s struggle, even though he is a fictional character and a bird, playing the role of a romantic hero.” Gwyn also believed doing so might challenge readers who think of animals as mere “property.” She firmly believes that “the only way we will save the animals who share this planet with us is if we learn to understand and value their lives.”
As many of ALDF’s cases try to show, Gwyn states, “animals are not pieces of machinery, but are living, intelligent creatures that deserve our consideration.” This is why, she says, “as compassionate citizens it is important that we reflect upon new ideas concerning the animal companions in our lives, the quality of life for [farmed] animals, and the threatened habitats of wild creatures. A measure of a culture is the empathy shown not only for the members of its own species but for other species as well.”
Gwyn’s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Press Editors’ Book Award and has appeared in literary magazines around the country. She is a winner of the Cecil Hackney Literary Award as well as a recipient of grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. Gwyn lives in Versailles, Kentucky, with her husband, Angel, and their rescue dog, Fritz. Purchase Love & Ordinary Creatures here.