"I found Spirits of a Feather truly captivating. It managed to tackle a sensitive, timely subject with dignity and understanding. The characters are real likeable and more than a little complex. I left the book much better informed about them and their lives. I'm looking forward to the sequel. Wonderful!"
Molly Stewart: Author, Journalist and Creative Writing Instructor
I am really happy that you wrote this book. People are always "shocked" because they don't want to know the truth. It kinda shows how out of touch they really are and that life is not always a white picket fence, or 2.5 children!
Your interpretation of the gay scene in Winnipeg and in San Francisco was very amazing! I can't wait to read your next novel!
". . . I was engaged in the story, interested to see what would befall the main character."
Spirits of a Feather by Shirriff is a book I recently finished reading and that I really liked. It is the story of Jay, a young boy who leaves home because he can't take the abuse anymore and heads off for the big city (in this case, Winnipeg). He has $11 in his pocket and nowhere to go. He is incredibly naive and (lucky for him) meets Phil who takes him in and begins the process of teaching Jay to open his mind and grow.
Jay's experiences with the gay community, vegetarianism, a native shaman, drug dealers, a medium and the family of his rich girlfriend teach him about the varieties of life and people and help him to heal his own prejudices and find his own way in the world; seeing people and not labels and stereotypes and exploring his own identity. I liked this book because I have known a lot of Jays in this world - full of pain, ignorance and anger and I really enjoyed the characters his path crosses. I like to see stories of growth and release from our demons.
- Wind Dancer<email@example.com>
Contact the Author:
1006 Crescent Road West
Portage la Prairie MB R1N 0Z3
Phone: (204) 857-5635
Title: Spirits of a Feather
Author: Charles W. Shirriff
Category: Fact-based Fiction
Format: Trade paperback
Copyright Date: 2001
Price: $11.95 US ($19.95 CAN)
Size: 6" x 9"
First Print Run: On Demand
Available from: iUniverse.com (1-877-823-9235)
"Spirits of a Feather" is a fact-based novel which follows the adventures of Jay, a teenager who heads south to escape the isolation of his dysfunctional family in the wilderness of northern Canada.
Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba, becomes the locale for Jay's experiences with the gay community, the occult, native shamanism, the drug culture, vegetarianism and a rich girlfriend. Through his experiences with his friends and the acceptance of two older men, Jay matures from the egocentricity of youth to a burgeoning social conscience as he learns to cope with his homophobic feelings and the challenges of his new world.
The nineteen vegetarian recipes included in the appendix are designed to be nourishing and enjoyable for nonvegetarians as well as vegetarians.
Jay is a seventeen year-old boy from a tiny, remote northern community who journeys south to the metropolis of Winnipeg, the capital of Manitoba, to fulfill his destiny. He meets Phil on the bus and is begriended by him. Jay stays with Phil and meets two of his friends, Steve who is gay, and Cam who is his friend. He also meets Sue who later becomes his girlfriend.
After a brief involvement in the local drug trade under the tutelage of Tony, Jay takes a job bussing tables in a rundown restaurant in a seedy area of the city. He lives in a room above the restaurant where he meets a native Indian shaman whom they call R.B.
The novel follows Jay's experiences with other people his age whose lives encompass drugs, raves, occult experiences, brushes with the law and people of various life-styles.
Jay breaks up with Sue because of her rich father's concerns about him, and goes to San Francisco with Steve (somewhat against his personal inclinations). The story ends with Jay flying home because he has learned that Sue is in the hospital.
Synopsis of Spirits of a Feather
The reader is led to view society through the naive eyes of Jay, an intelligent young man who is forced to grow up quickly in order to survive. His experiences move him through segments of the community such as: the poor, survival on the street, the gay culture, native religion, the drug culture, vegetarianism, and the life-style of the wealthy. The novel would lend itself well to adaption for film or TV.
CM . . . . Volume IX Number 15 . . . . March 28, 2003
Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.
Review by Darleen Golke.
Jay escapes his dysfunctional family life in a "perennially makeshift [Oakridge] cabin" in northern Manitoba by boarding a Grey Goose bus bound for Winnipeg with eleven dollars in his pocket. Alone in a strange city, Jay accepts a fellow traveler's offer of a hide-a-bed for the night and enters the world of big Phil and his friends. Armed with prejudices and attitudes learned from his mother, his succession of "fathers," and his reading - old Reader's Digests, the Bible, and the first volume of World Book Encyclopedia - Jay finds homosexuality particularly repugnant. Phil, on disability leave from the police force, Cam, a heterosexual accountant who likes the gay lifestyle, and Steve, a flamboyantly gay travel agent, lecture Jay about gays and homosexuals, AIDS, the gay life style, homophobia, and related topics. Over the ensuing six months, the three men become surrogate fathers to Jay although he consistently insists he can handle things on his own. Along the way, the cast of characters Jay encounters include a mismatched couple he meets hanging out at Portage Place, a shifty drug baron for whom he delivers "packages," an affluent girlfriend whose parents naturally disapprove of him, a New Age flake who fascinates him, a First Nation shaman who provides spiritual guidance, and a Chinese restaurateur who gives him a job and a place to live.
Lectures recur throughout the novel. On several occasions, Phil expounds on vegetarianism; Shirriff even includes a 32-page Appendix with vegetarian recipes. (I tested the "Peanut & Lima Bean Loaf" with limited success.) Shirriff continues his "lectures" with travelogues of Winnipeg and San Francisco, with discourses on shamanism, psychic phenomena, seances, Winnipeg Fringe Festival, raves, drugs, interventions, and other topics. Interestingly, the lectures sometimes erupt at the most peculiar times. For example, when Jay is running from the thugs drug baron Tony sends after him and hides out in the North Main Street area, Shirriff interrupts the pace of the action to describe the architecture of the Exchange district and segues into the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.
Inconsistencies occur throughout the novel. Despite his frequently avowed homophobia, Jay takes the "stroll" in the male prostitute area of Winnipeg and considers "trying to make a few bucks" to "get a hotel room for the night and maybe something to eat." A seasoned hustle veteran interrupts his fledgling attempts to get picked up and lectures him about the dangers of hooking and melodramatically grumbles, "this life screws up your head and your emotions when you start selling yourself" because "you're selling part of your spirit." Knowing Tony has sent goons out to punish him, Jay calmly confronts him, and when Jay promises never to "discuss [Tony's] business with others" Tony, remarkably, lets him off the hook.
Jay, himself, is a study in inconsistencies. He is both innocent and jaded, melodramatic and realistic, open and dishonest, petulant and accommodating, uneducated and, in his own words, "erudite and literate." His character changes as the action or the situation dictates suggesting that the author wasn't sure what traits he wanted for his protagonist. Italicized passages indicating Jay's inner thoughts are inserted randomly in the narrative further demonstrating the inconsistencies. Nevertheless, Jay is an engaging young man whose appeal lies in his blend of naivete and world-weariness. Jay explains he has embarked on this quest to locate the father he has never known, but only rarely does he seem to remember his quest. He eventually looks for his father in the San Francisco area when he accompanies Steve on a Christmas holiday.
Problems with the handling of time and inconsistencies in language and detail interfere with the pace of the story. The dialogue is often stilted and ponderous, hardly suited to the characters or circumstances. These issues, along with grammatical errors, sentence structure, and vocabulary, might have been rectified with the assistance of a good editor. Although sanitized language and the absence of sex scenes or episodes of violence are laudable, writing a realistic novel set in contemporary society entails using the idiom, diction, and behavior characteristic of the locale and characters. Shirriff's story has potential as a tale of adventure and discovery, but his apparent determination to educate his readers by slipping facts into his prose whenever possible interrupts the flow of action and damages the quality of the story itself. The abrupt ending after Jay's "eagle spirit" revelation obviously suggests a sequel but leaves the reader dangling. Young adults, the target audience for the narrative, might well become discouraged by the slow pace and frequent forays into instructional mode.
Recommended with reservations
Darleen Golke is a librarian living in Winnipeg, MB.
Spirits of a Feather
by Charles W. Shirriff
Lincoln, New England: iUniverse.com, Inc., 2001, ISBN 1-58348-547-3, 253 pp., $19.95 paper.
There is a rolling start and then some in Spirits of a Feather. Only seventeen, Jay is riding an old Grey Goose south to Winnipeg from the tiny northern community of Oakridge with the vague hope of finding his long-gone father. A teenage mother joins him at the next stop, talks with him long enough for us to taste JayÕs innocent charm and high seriousness, and then gets off at the next town. The entire business requires less than three pages.
Charles W. Shirriff can't keep that momentum through his debut. At heart, Spirits of a Feather is a coming-of-age story set more gently than most. On paper it's too gentle. For all the intimations of Winnipeg's dark side this is a soft and doughy story in which the characters and their predicaments fail to rise with distinction, and where the plotting feels incomplete.
It isn't for lack of adventure. With eleven dollars in his pocket and no place to stay, Jay is sheltered by the avuncular Phil. A gay man, Phil introduces him to Steve and Cam, who represent two aspects of local gay culture. Jay makes other friends on his own, including Jimmy, a street kid who steals to support a drug habit, Sue, daughter of Wellington Crescent wealth, and Running Bear, an urban shaman whose wisdom informs the novel's title. Jay also lands a job delivering unspecified packages for Tony, a local crime boss, and has encounters with homeless drunks off of Main Street and rough trade near the Legislative Building. Little of it convinces.
Language is a recurring problem. Jay developed his by poring over the family's incomplete encyclopaedia, and his syntax is a strange but convincingly youthful mix of pomposity and naiveté ("I know a lot of words from reading that I've never heard anyone say." (47)). Yet virtually every character speaks in the same oratorical cut and clarity. In his encounter with the male hookers, for example, Jay is befriended immediately by one of the veterans, whose open soul is truly remarkable: "You aren't merely selling your body, you're selling part of your spirit. In time it erodes your soul and leaves you less than human." (125) There is a feeling that little of the written dialogue was tested aloud; there are stretches of description-heavy conversation that sag beneath their narrative cargo, a surfeit of functional dialogue that would work gracefully as narrative, and tourist-guide descriptions of Winnipeg that arise at the strangest times (while Jay is running for his life from Tony's muscle, Shirriff pauses to describe Exchange District architecture and introduce the Fringe Theatre Festival).
Such woodenness may be symptomatic of the author's politeness. There is cause to admire a modern novel in which there are no sex scenes, no violence except at a distance and no colloquialism stronger than one use of "dick." An antiseptic story is another matter, especially when Shirriff is so eager not to offend. Jay is homophobic, for example, but this manifests as mild discomfort rather than hate, and is nullified by the endlessly patient wisdom of his older friends. Nobody rages. Danger reads as flat and false as love, and the book's sudden ending suggests simple exhaustion.
Winnipeg writer Randal McIlroy has contributed to various publications, including Style Manitoba (for which he is Assistant Editor), The Globe and Mail, Border Crossings, Code, Prairie Fire and Uptown.
Email from a reader in Texas - Amazon.com
I just spent the past two days reading your books, Spirits of a Feather, and Souls of a Feather. I cannot possibly express how stunned I am by them; they will leave a lasting impression, and I cannot help but to feel that after reading them that I am somehow a better person.
I can only hope you are making this into a trilogy. There are unresolved questions to which I need answers: does Phil manage to pull himself together enough to go back to work? What happens to RB? What happens to Arrow? Does Jay's family move to town? And so on.
BookBrowser: Review Spirits of a Feather
by Charles W. Shirriff
iUniverse.com, October 1999, 251 pp.
Genre: Fictionalized Biography
Reviewer: Maureen O'Connor
Spirits of a Feather is referred to as a fact-based novel. It tells the story of Jay, a 17-year-old boy who leaves his abusive home in northern Canada to make his way to Winnipeg, Manitoba with eleven dollars in his pocket. On the bus to Winnipeg he meets a man (Phil) who befriends him, buying him lunch on the trip, and then eventually inviting Jay to come home with him to stay. Of course the expectation is that Jay will be preyed upon, but in fact, he has had the good fortune of encountering a good Samaritan who offers nothing but kindness and help to this boy.
One of Phil's friends is gay, an important theme throughout the book, as Phil and his friends try to demonstrate to Jay how unreasonable his homophobia is. And this is where the "fact-based" element reveals itself: Steve (the gay man) and Phil spout facts, and lecture throughout the length of the book about gays, the gay life, the difference between being gay and homosexual, the incidence of AIDS, the struggles with homophobia, etc. However, Shirriff doesn't stop there. We learn facts about native Indians and shamanism, the occult, vegetarianism (with vegetarian recipes at the end) Winnipeg, and San Francisco.
This book is sorely in need of a good editor. Technically, there are problems, as it's obvious that spell-check was the only proofreading device used here. The novel is fraught with grammatical errors and misuse of vocabulary, an unnecessary irritation in any novel. Stylistically, however, there are more serious problems, primarily in the realm of consistency. The main character is at once obnoxious and endearing, ignorant and erudite, selfish and sentimental. Perhaps one could say this is simply being human, but such is not the case here. Shirriff appears not to have been able to determine what kind of character he wanted, so Jay behaves in whatever manner suits the continuation of the story and in such a way that another fact-based lecture can be introduced. He seems to be a vehicle for the author to promulgate his views.
There are also many inconsistencies in detail: for example, much is made of the fact that at one point Jay has one dollar left, which he uses to buy coffee and toast; shortly afterwards, he takes several bills out of his pocket to lend to a friend. Time is poorly handled, as Steve gives Jay some clothes on his second day in Winnipeg, but in the scene where he returns to Phil and shows him the clothes, they refer to the fact that he has been there for two weeks. This type of problem, along with the inconsistent dialogue and behavior, occur throughout, thus seriously weakening the value of the novel. Finally, the book just ends, with a contrived twist in the plot and with no resolution.
Does the author intend a sequel? If so, he should now try to connect with a mainstream publisher who would provide professional editorial advice. He does need serious help from people in the business. However, I do think that Shirriff may be quite capable of writing a gripping contemporary novel. Despite all the problems, I was engaged in the story, interested to see what would befall the main character. I think that this particular novel may have been Shirriff's testing ground, his first draft in a writing career. I wish him well in his future endeavors.
Reviewer: Duane Simolke, author of:Degranon, May 31, 2002
Spirit of a tender writer:
Despite an abrupt ending, I enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading the sequel. Shirriff finds people in the worst situations, or just in situations that would make most readers uncomfortable, then treats them with dignity and tenderness.
What would have been a tawdry, bleak, hopeless narrative in other hands becomes a journey of discovery and hope in Shirriff's hands.
The character of Jay matures in unexpected but believable ways as he encounters gays, a Shaman, a drug dealer, the rave scene, and many other surprises. Even with Jay's prejudices and sometimes shady dealings, I kept liking him and wanting him to improve his life. .
Spirits of a Feather
- from http://home.worldonline.dk/shinton/souls.htm
A previously homophobic teenager becomes close friends with an openly gay man.
The novel concentrates on presenting a balanced view of various lifestyles and gives a personal look at different spiritual processes, experiences and lifestyles.
Very thought provoking and fosters understanding of different people, lifestyles and value systems.
Spirits of a Feather
Charles W. Shirriff
Feather Quill Book Review (Spirits of a Feather)
by Nancy J. Bailey August 2009
In this coming of age story, a country boy moves to the city and sees a side of life he has never before witnessed. I love the concept of an admitted homophobe being thrust into an environment that includes a gay lifestyle. Jay, the country boy, seems to be caught in a situation he doesn’t really like, but he doesn’t have the strength to leave it. He has left home on a bus, is out of money and taken in by Phil, a somewhat eccentric and rather hermit-like vegetarian.
The story inexplicably entwines the concept of Native American spirituality and totem animals, another favorite topic of mine. Jay never admits to Native American blood, but he seems open to shaman-like experiences, including visions and guidance from an eagle spirit.
There were things I liked about this book: the utter confusion of the main character; his unstable background with a mother who could not stay with one partner, his wandering experiences in the city and chance encounters with people he would never have befriended under normal circumstances. Jay is very judgmental and edges toward narcissism, but he finally learns to care for someone when he finds love with a girl who has a drug problem. True to life, the story doesn’t necessarily reach a satisfying resolution for all characters, which is something I appreciated. The inclusion of Phil’s recipes is a nice touch.
I thought the point of view may have been stronger in the first person, as Jay tends to explain himself in a way that is almost reminiscent of “The Catcher in the Rye’s” Holden Caulfield. Even as desperate as he is, I never quite bought or understood why Jay consented to moving in with Phil. Phil confused me a little bit at first. I thought he was up to something, and was also under the impression that he was homosexual. We don’t find out until well into the story what has actually prompted Phil to take an interest in this kid who is so ungrateful and manipulative. I think the relationship between Phil and the boy he had initially befriended needed to be examined further, and probably earlier in the story.
As much as I liked some of the concepts of the story, I felt the plot was meandering and not really going anywhere. Jay’s deepest desire is never established; there is seemingly nothing driving him. Jay is just thrust into a situation with strangers, completely depending on them for his welfare and livelihood. Although the author tries to explain Jay’s motives and thoughts, I felt I never fully understood him, nor did I find him very likeable. It’s perfectly acceptable to have a main character who is not necessarily likeable, but the reader should be able to empathize with the character on some level.