This debut novel by Trevor Herriot is the richly observed story of Nell Rowan, who has inherited her family’s prairie farmstead and returned there to live after many decades away. Nell is increasingly obsessed by a 19th-century bird collector while haunted by memories of her mother’s disappearance.
Nell’s fascination with 19th-century bird collector William Spreadborough began during her janitorial night shifts at the National Museum of Nature. Now retired and back home on the same prairie where Spreadborough collected birds, her obsession with his life and death becomes more urgent. Though she finds consolation in the company of her border collie and horses, and the wild birds passing through each season, Nell feels increasingly isolated. Her neighbours seem indifferent to the ongoing devastation contemporary agriculture wreaks on prairie ecosystems and less than supportive of Nell’s attempts to track native bird populations. And now she is unable to escape the central mystery of her life: what happened to her mother in that long-ago snowstorm?
Things begin to shift for Nell when she provides temporary shelter to Carmelita, a fifteen-year-old foster child whose fresh view of the world around her just might rescue Nell from the hopelessness she fears is her inheritance.
Trevor Herriot’s The Economy of Sparrows connects today’s settler culture and natural science to their roots in colonial empire-building. As Nell Rowan finds the people who might help her come to some peaceful resolution of her life’s challenges, readers are faced with questions of how we engage with and value the natural world, how its truths illuminate both history and our present lives, and how we justify ourselves to the wild things of the earth.