Sean Flynn chronicles his first year as a peacock owner, from struggling to build a pen to assisting the local bird doctor in surgery to triumphantly watching a peahen lay her first egg. He also examines the global history of peacocks, from their appearance in the Garden of Eden to their befuddling Charles Darwin to their bewitching the likes of Flannery O'Connor and Martha Stewart.
There’s nothing like senseless violence to prompt a search for meaning, as promised in the subtitle. Through most of the book, though, it doesn’t feel as if Flynn is up to anything so profound ... The writing is often witty, sometimes glorious, and his tales wry and charming. (Though at one point, it seems that Flynn just can’t stop reporting on human barbarity, devoting a chapter to the unsolved torture and murder of peacocks in a suburb of Los Angeles) ... But more is going on here. Something magical happens to this hard-bitten reporter as he gets to know his peacocks ... a fine starting point to finding meaning in a world both cruel and beautiful.
... we can’t help rooting for [Flynn] ... Mr. Flynn’s narrative is quicksilver, darting like a hooked fish from side to side, never losing the line. Beneath the surface flow dark intimations of the writer’s occupation. There are startling plunges into melancholy ... abundant mythology of peacocks, richly explored throughout the book ... could perhaps have only been born out of a global pandemic, a period when almost everything fell apart for everyone. It’s a sparkling confessional from a man who tries to protect the innocent and beautiful from a world that he knows all too well can be relentlessly awful.
Flynn recognizes the privilege inherent in keeping peacocks; throughout the ages, the birds were esteemed for their beauty, and owning peacocks was a way to display wealth and power. The author also notes the downsides of living alongside peacocks, who are quite noisy ... Blending memoir and natural history, this candid journey into the world of an unusual bird will spark the interest of fans of popular science.