Title: Cooper’s Hawk
Author: Victor J. Banis
Cover Artist: Deana C. Jamroz
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Length: short story (24 pages, 6,700 words)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Guest Review by Lloyd A. Meeker
Review Summary: A beautiful story from a master storyteller.
If love is truly eternal, what lasts beyond the grave—and what form might it take?
Mike Patterson loses his life-long partner, Adam Cooper—and soon thereafter, a hawk appears and seems to hang around with him. Is the hawk a message from Adam, from beyond the grave—or might it be Adam himself, come back to offer solace? A bittersweet tale that will resonate with all who love deeply, a story of the sharpness of grief, the pain of loss—and, ultimately, a story of never ending love.
Victor Banis clearly knows firsthand that those in the deepest pain don’t make a lot of noise, because his quiet empathy radiates throughout his most recent story, Cooper’s Hawk.
Mike has just lost his life partner Adam, but he views it as much his own death as Adam’s. The story begins:
“It is now 4 days, 2 hours and 58 minutes since my life ended.”
With his signature unpretentious elegance and clarity in building from everyday detail, Banis sets the story’s weary pace and heart-breaking tone, full of useless time and missing purpose.
Daddy Mike is lovingly attended by his own children and Daddy Adam’s, all of whom have grown up with them both. But not even familial care can erase the enervating ache of Mike’s loss. Then a hawk appears, igniting Mike’s curiosity for the first time since Adam’s death.
Like the Zen master who practices for years to paint a perfect circle in one stroke of the brush, Banis knows that the power of simplicity takes a reader farther than mere cleverness. Take this example of frying baloney, a simple task, to be sure:
I puttered around out in the yard and gathered some pecans off the ground underneath the pecan tree, not sure what I meant to do with them. I was just killing time, truth to tell. I kept looking up at the sky, wondering where the hawk was, but he didn’t show.
After a time, I got hungry and went inside to see what I could come up with. I knew Alma Jean or Elizabeth either one would be happy to come over and cook something, and any of the boys would take me into town, but I was more inclined to do for myself.
I looked in the refrigerator. The only things I’d gotten at the store were some eggs and some milk and a package of baloney. That was habit, the baloney. It was Adam who’d liked the baloney and I’d always gotten it for him. He liked it fried up and made into a sandwich, which didn’t taste like anything to me, it seemed like.
Well, it was either eggs or baloney, and I’d had eggs already that day. I lit a burner on the stove and put a skillet on it and poured some grease in the skillet, and tossed the baloney into the skillet, and set down at the table. It didn’t seem like I’d sat there more than a minute or two before I smelled the smoke and realized the baloney was burning. By then it was already as black as the devil’s bunghole, and I threw it in the garbage pail and put the skillet in the sink, and ran water over it, and turned on the fan to get the smoke out.
It’s a perfect picture of a man who is so numb, so cut adrift by grief that he “set down at the table” for only a minute but burned his food—not to mention that he still buys baloney out of habit for the man he loves, even though he’s dead.
The hawk weaves a mystical thread through the mundane events of the story, and in a lesser writer’s hand such a metaphor could easily become leaden. But with his inarguable skill Banis keeps it alive and vigorous, with real hope and meaning.
I’d have to take a number and wait in line to sing the praises of Banis’ storytelling skills. Just let me say this is an exquisitely tender love story told in the gentle and poignant angled light of a setting sun. Although it doesn’t show itself much except through the memories Mike carries in his heart, a love so powerful that it can’t be described in words drives this story.
Does it have a happy ending? I’d say yes, absolutely. But I suggest you have a tissue handy. Give yourself a treat. Read it and decide for yourself.