Leo Binhammer is used to ruling the roost as the only male in a female-dominated English department at Carmine-Casey Academy, an elite all-girls private school in New York City. And he plays the part well, lapping up the attention hoisted upon him by the nubile school girls desperate for his attention. Not in a creepy way, I mean; the man’s not a pedophile. But does he enjoy being the center of attention, doted upon by both students and middle-aged single mothers? Yes. Yes, he does.
But the joy of the girls’ hero-worship comes to a screeching halt with the arrival of a newcomer. Young, handsome and aloof Ted Hughes — like the poet, but not like the poet — comes to Carmine-Casey amid the twittering of students’ whispers, and not without a connection to Binhammer’s past. And present. And possibly future. Now faced with sharing his students’ devotion with someone he recognizes as charismatic but still despises, Binhammer is shaken to the core.
Throw in delusions of grandeur on the part of some of the students — like young playwright Liz Warren — and you’ve got a concoction for some serious dramz — just on a larger, more intellectual scale.
And that’s truly how I would describe Joshua Gaylords’ Hummingbirds — a Gossip Girl for the thinking woman or man. Of course, it lacks the salacious gossip quality of a Gossip Girl novel . . . and that’s what makes those books so compulsively readable for me.
What this one lacks in scandalous dirt, however, it makes up for through vivid characterization and an attempt to really get to the core of one man: Binhammer. Did it work, though? I don’t know. By the time I finished Hummingbirds, I can’t say I felt any more deeply for Leo than I did when first cracking the spine here. In fact, I felt one of the most dangerous emotions of all for any reader: indifference.
That was my major issue with the novel, which I read quickly but failed to truly connect with: there was an emotional component completely missing — something that would make me want to have coffee with or chat with these characters. Dixie Doyle, another of the students known less for her intellect and more for her flirtatious attitude, was someone I found fascinating on the surface — but I never got a good read on her.
I enjoyed Gaylord’s wonderful turns of phrase and keen observations — including the line providing the book’s title. Looking upon the swarms of girls roaming the halls of Carmine-Casey, Binhammer “is reminded of hummingbirds, their delicate, overheated bodies fretting in short, angled bursts of movement around a bottle of red sugar water.”
Lines like this are scattered through the story, providing a lyrical and lovely way of looking at the habits of folks here — destructive, oblivious — but that wasn’t enough to really draw me into Hummingbirds. Much as I wanted to step into the frame, I was always starkly at a distance.
3 out of 5!