In earlier Pink books, the narrator has always felt more like a mouthpiece for his ideology than a fully fleshed protagonist, a faceless everyman whose sharp-tongued misanthropy is powerful enough to be relatable without any kind of relevant backstory. But relatability is not the same as intimacy. White Ibis offers character building on an unprecedented scale for Pink, perhaps because the narrator’s new environment is more conducive to exposing more of himself, or maybe he’s just less guarded as he gets older. Regardless, it is fascinating to finally get a glimpse of his previously undescribed life as a visual artist and fiction writer and bear witness to his many insecurities and perceived failings, but also his obvious pride in being able to connect with others, most poignantly in the form of an email from a transgender fan who is able to ward off suicidal thoughts with the help of the narrator’s previously published novellas. The last chapters mark an uncharacteristic but welcome transition to relative domestic tranquility, punctuated by one last encounter with the narrator’s favorite bird. The white ibis isn’t a disconcerting omen, he realizes, but rather a profound reminder to never forget where he comes from, and to more objectively accept all of the diverse facets that comprise his personality: “The white ibis stood in place for a second, eyeing me, then flew a little bit away – which is probably a good rule for how to behave around anyone…I watched it, knowing then that we were never meant to be friends. We were too similar.”
Naturally, art imitates art, and the perception of an individual piece can be directly influenced by an examination of the artist’s larger body of work. Consider Pink’s recent painting “A Group of People Vaguely Operating as One” (which was painted in the author’s home in Tampa, and which, full disclosure, currently hangs in this reviewer’s living room): at first glance, your eyes are pulled in any number of directions, overwhelmed by the green and yellow constellations of seemingly random swirls and pulsing lines, a jumbled dystopian cityscape collapsing on itself. But as you focus a little harder, you begin to notice another layer to the piece, a vaguely humanoid/robotic figure near the center, arms raised and seemingly at peace, merging with the various patterns and shapes that no longer seem random but somehow part of something larger, something indefinite but strangely hopeful, and you realize that the painting’s title isn’t an ironic joke. The first word that comes to mind is one that is rarely, if ever, employed when discussing Sam Pink: harmony. The same feeling permeates the final pages of White Ibis, showcasing a battle-toughened, confident writer at the top of his game, no longer shackled to the same cyclical narrative, and with no inclination as to where he’s headed next. It’s a sense of intriguing uncertainty that one imagines is as refreshing for Pink as it is for the reader.
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