Author: Clark Casey

ISBN: 9781466215887

ISBN: 9781466284128

Publisher: Some Dead Trees Press

After reviewing  The Jesus Fish and Slaughter Bird  by this author (which I had wanted to read to figure out that weird title and then got hooked on hanging out with the engaging characters) I was looking forward to reading more by Clark Casey. He has a talent for satire that one  reader compared to Vonnegut  and I’d have to agree. The Perfect Defective is 51 pages of satire and a lot of laughs. Pale Male is 49 pages of much more than satire including some beautiful lyrical writing about the flights of a Red Tailed Hawk in Manhattan’s Central Park and some interesting insights into male/female human relationships. And by the way, “Pale Male” does not refer to a White Anglo Saxon man as I first assumed, but that very Red Tailed Hawk who becomes something of a celebrity among birdwatchers living along the perimeters of the park.

We learned that with Pale Male’s penchant for opulence in choosing his residence he had overlooked one primary detail in his species’ process of development: the leaving of the nest.  Normally fledgling hawks will learn to fly by hopping from treetop to treetop until they get the hang of being airborne. This was the first time in history, at least that anyone knew about, that a hawk was born three stories above the closest tree. Their first leap would be a tremendous one. The bird watching community had doubled by this time. As the fledglings practiced flappng their wings in the nest each day, hundreds of binoculars focused above the window where my own private crisis was unfolding.” 

Clark Casey’s characters usually remember some early tragedy that informs their attitudes and actions and in Pale Male, the tragedy is the death of a younger sister he had tried hard but unsuccessfully to protect. I’ll never forget the poignancy of this scene:

As I was coming back with my paper, the bird was still rising a foot or two in the air, then falling back to the safety of the nest.  Suddenly a strong gust of wind came up Fifth Avenue and lifted him several feet above and beyond his perch.  A second later, he dropped down below the sill and there was no way for him to get back.  He had no choice but to go for it. A collective gasp came from the crowd across the street.  He flapped his wings frantically, only he didn’t know enough to let his body glide.  He kept swatting down to quickly for the air to give him lift. He rose then fell, then rose and fell some more. The bird people cooed then moaned at each foot he dropped. It was a slow motion examply of trying to hard for your own good.

I could see all my failures in the bird’s descent. I had tried to hard to keep Sarah safe. I had placed too many restrictions on her. The nest I’d built for her was too high above the world. If I’d let her live closer to the earth, she’d have been better equipped to leave the nest. The fledgling spiraled toward the park, rising then plunging to the earth. It was unbearable to watch. Finally he crashed into the branches of an evergreen tree. The crowd was deathly silent for a moment. Then a screech came from within the branches and the birders all laughed with great relief. It was a screech that Sarah never emitted as her frail body flat lined.” (p.32-33)

It is a gift for that kind of writing that enables this author to say so much in very few words.