Our nameless narrator stubbornly tries to keep her small brood of four chickens alive and safe over the course of one savage winter in Minnesota. Woefully unprepared for the task, she battles the relentless predators, severe weather, and unforeseen bad luck--all the while grieving a recent miscarriage, and coming to terms with her infertility and the accompanying uncertainty that her future holds.
Shortly after I started reading Brood, the debut novel from St. Paul writer Jackie Polzin, I dashed off a note to a poet friend who used to keep a flock of Rhode Island Reds in her backyard. You will love this book, I told her, the voice is wry and rare and old-fashioned in a good way, reminds me of E.B. White's essays about his farm. And so funny! ... the sprightliness of the voice had me so snowed that it took a while to realize that Brood is actually a story of unremitting loss ... Has anyone ever described chickens better than Jackie Polzin? It seems unlikely ... This little book was acquired by Doubleday in a two-day, nine-house bidding war, which is saying a lot for a skinny debut novel about raising chickens. But as Polzin points out, 'A chicken's life is full of magic. Lo and behold.'
... a wonderfully written first novel, full of nuance and humor and strangeness ... Polzin writes beautifully about chickens; she is lovingly cleareyed about their “idiocy” and their dearness. She writes beautifully about everything: the sound of melting snow at the end of a Minnesota winter; a forgotten container of orange sherbet frosted over; private emotion ... Her eye for physical detail is surprising ... It’s a pleasure to see what Polzin sees ... Polzin’s story will be meaningful to many people for many reasons. It is companionable, cozy, smart and empathetic.
Polzin carefully avoids the pitfalls of cliché, elucidating the terror and surprise of raising chickens while leaving the emotions of miscarriage and infertility veritably untouched. In this way, the entire novel is as layered as its title. In fact, there isn’t much brooding (in the sense of dark contemplation) that occurs, overtly at least. Yet each nugget of insight gleaned about the chickens has other meanings, to the point that the chickens become living, squawking Rorschach tests. When the narrator’s time with the chickens comes to an end, there is only the most passing hint at the loss she feels. Without the chickens there to interpret, the reader is in the dark.