Congratulations to author Grace Mattioli on the release of her novel The Bird that Sang in Color!
Today I have an excerpt for you to read and a chance to win a copy of the book!
Part family drama and part self-actualization story, this is about Donna Greco, who in her teens, subscribes to a conventional view of success in life and pushes her freewheeling, artistic brother, Vincent to do the same. However, he remains single, childless, and subsists in cramped apartments. She harbors guilt for her supposed failure to ensure his happiness until she discovers a book of sketches he made of his life, which allows her to see his internal joy and prompts her own journey of living authentically.
Thought-provoking, humorous, and filled with unforgettable characters, this book invites readers to ponder what pictures they will have of themselves by the end of their lives.
“Beautifully rendered, hugely moving, brilliant,” Lidia Yucknavitch.
“a refreshing family portrait about interpersonal evolution…presented with affection, humor, and insight…an inspiring slice of life blend of philosophy, psychology, and transformation that draws readers into a warm story and examines the wellsprings of creative force and future legacies…evocative, uplifting,” Midwest Book Review.
The golden garden bird of peace were the words painted on the wall in Vincent’s room. I thought Dad would have painted over them because he couldn’t stand all that “hippie crap.” Beside the words hung a bunch of paintings he made. He painted trees, mountains, rivers, flowers, and people with real-life expressions that made them more than just pictures. They were alive, and they told stories.
Some of his paintings were abstract, my favorite being one that looked like a kaleidoscope with no beginning and no end and colors that bounced off the canvas like a beautiful neon sign sparkling against a black sky. I could stare at it all day. I went between staring at it and the album cover before me—Let It Be by the Beatles. Vincent sat by the record player, dressed in his usual Levi’s, T-shirt, and Converse high-tops, bent towards the revolving album, listening intently, his head of black curly hair moving back and forth, his right foot tapping the hardwood floor, keeping rhythm to the Fab Four.
Finally, he turned his head away from the stereo and said to me, “I can’t believe this is it.” His face was serious and gloomy, and I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I pretended that I did because I’d never let my cool down around Vincent. It was because of him that I knew so much about rock and roll, which made me pretty sure that I was the coolest eighth-grade girl in the whole town and possibly in the whole state of New Jersey.
“I know,” I said seriously.
“I mean, I just never thought the Beatles would break up.” He shook his head with disappointment.
“So, this is their last album, then?”
“Well, yeah,” he said, like I should have known better.
“Hey, check this out, Donna.” With the speed of a light switch flicking on, he turned into an entirely different person, no longer sad and gloomy but light and happy. He showed me a drawing he made of an old lady sitting on a chair with half of her body missing, and it looked as if the missing half was on the other side of an invisible door. She wore a mysterious smile as if she knew some extraordinary truth.
“Where’s the other half of her body?” I said.
“I don’t know,” he said, grinning. “You tell me.”
“Wow.” I sat there, trying to wrap my head around this while listening to the song playing. Just as I was about to figure something out about the picture, and just as I was really getting into the song, he took the needle off, turned the album over, and put the needle on the first song on the other side, a tendency he had that bothered the hell out of our brother, Carmen.
He scratched his head and looked up, his eyes penetrating the ceiling, deep in thought. He resembled Mom with his olive skin, Roman nose, and black curls, and was the only one of us who got her curly hair. The rest of us had straight hair. Mine was super long—to the bottom of my back—and I wore it parted in the middle and was certain that I was wearing it that way long before it was the style.
Vincent was also taller than the rest of us at over six feet. Dad said he took after his own dad in stature. I never knew Grandpa Tucci because he died before I was born, but I was told he was called Lanky because he was tall and skinny. I was pretty thin myself and had a bottomless pit. People would say that all my eating would catch up with me one day, but that never stopped me from eating ice cream every day after school. Breyers butter almond was my favorite.
Vincent listened to the music with pure attention, like there was nothing else in the world as George sang I, me, mine, I, me, mine, I, me, mine. He was probably trying to figure out what the song was about or how he could play it on his guitar. His acoustic guitar sat in the corner of his room. He had the smallest room in the house, but it seemed like the biggest because it was its own self-contained universe. I felt like I could be on the other side of the world without ever leaving his room.
His paintings and drawings covered the walls. A bunch of leather-bound cases of albums colored red and black and bone sat on the floor between a stereo and a wooden desk with piles of books and sketchbooks on top. Comic books, pens, and paintbrushes were scattered on the floor like seashells on the sand.
I shared a room with my younger sister, Nancy, and she insisted on having the room be as pink as possible. She was the youngest, so she always got her way. On top of making our room a sickening pink paradise, she had a doll collection with faces that really creeped me out, and she started pushing over my beloved books on our shelves to make room for her dolls. A doll named Lucinda with blond hair and a blue satin dress was shoved up against two of my favorites—Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird.
“Check this out, Donna,” Vincent said, emerging from his music-listening trance. He took a skinny metal whistle out of a plastic case. “Got it at the music store in town.”
“Neat. Some kind of flute?” I said.
“A pennywhistle.” He had a big smile that stretched from one side of his face to the other. “Or sometimes called a tin whistle.”
“I wish I could play an instrument,” I said. “Just one.” I was the only one in our family that didn’t play an instrument. Mom wanted me to learn ballet instead because she said I had a dancer’s body. I liked it all right and stayed with it until my teacher put me on toe, and the wooden shoes imprisoned my feet and made them ache hours after class ended.
“Sure.” He started fishing in one of his desk drawers for something.
“Thanks Vincent.” No response. He just kept on with his searching. I looked at the tin instrument wondering how I’d learn to play it, when he poked his head up and gave me an instructional songbook for it. I went through it seeing musical notation for simple songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” It was all new territory for me, but I knew I could learn it and thought I could go anywhere from there. I saw myself playing with Vincent as he strummed the guitar, playing on the street for money, playing in a small orchestra of other penny whistlers. Just then, Mom called out from the kitchen.
“Dinner’s ready!” I didn’t care that my fantasy was interrupted because I was starving. Vincent was always up for eating and was the biggest eater I knew. He seemed especially hungry because he was walking to the kitchen really fast. Even when he walked fast, he looked cool. He walked with a bounce in his step, his head bobbing back and forth like he was keeping beat to a song that only he could hear. I tried to walk like him once, but I ended up looking like some kind of uncoordinated monkey. I walked like Dad who moved fast and forward-leaning, like he was continually running late for something.
The kitchen smelled of garlic and fish. It was Friday, and Mom always cooked fish on Fridays. A big flat bowl with hand-painted flowers was filled with spaghetti, calamari and gravy, which was what we called tomato sauce in our house. My older sister, Gloria was setting the large wooden table that sat in the center of the kitchen. She wore her hair tucked neatly behind her ears and a black-and-tan argyle vest that fit snug on her shapely body. Her face had the usual serious, troubled look on it like something was wrong. Anthony—the oldest in the family—was away at college, and Nancy was at a sleepover, so the table was set for only six.
Mom was at the sink, getting a salad together. Above the sink was a long window that looked out onto our backyard, its ledge covered with little ladybug statues, which Mom loved because they meant good luck. She wore a red-and-white apron over a straight skirt and boots and took long, swift strides around the kitchen. Watching her get dinner together was like watching a performance. She’d put on her apron instead of a costume. The music played: the chopping of vegetables, the clanging of metal spoons against pots and the sweet sound of pouring. She’d dance around, gathering ingredients, sautéing, stirring, occasionally turning towards us—the audience—to say something or laugh with us so that we’d feel a part of the show. She presented her perfect meals like works of art, displaying them on the table, and we’d applaud by eating—grabbing, twirling, chewing—until we couldn’t fit anymore in.
Dad was opening up one of his bottles of homemade wine. I had a sip once, and it went down my throat like an angry snake. He leaned on the table like he needed it to support him with his eyes half-shut and his black-and-gray hair falling forward in his face. In his tiredness, he didn’t speak, but even when he was quiet, he was loud, and whenever he walked into a room, everybody knew it, even if he didn’t say a word.
To win a copy of the book in any format (Print, Digital, Audio) enter HERE!
This Giveaway runs from January 17th to the 20th
Grace Mattioli is the author of two novels, Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees and Discovery of an Eagle, and a book of short stories—The Brightness Index. All titles have received stellar reviews from sources such as Midwest Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, and Indie Reader Reviews, and Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees has been on the prestigious “Best of” list in Suspense Magazine. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and her cats. She’s worked as a librarian for over 20 years and has been writing creatively since she was a child.
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