My Fine Feathered Friend by William Grimes

by Valerie MacEwan


As Rare as Hen's Teeth

Why did the reviewer cross the road? To get to the chicken book on the other side. A chicken book, just what this country needs. No pretense, no posturing, just a little strutting of the facts concerning a backyard encounter with poultry. William Grimes, a New York restaurant critic known best for his reviews of chicken fricassee’, sautéed chicken, fried chicken, roasted chicken (you get the picture), discusses getting personal with a chicken in his elegant book, My Fine Feathered Friend. A chicken—The antithesis of Pop Culture. Not trendy, chicken owning will surely not become the new paradigm of social acceptance and cultural awareness. Although destined not to become as popular as N’Sync, this was, nonetheless, not just any chicken. It was an Australorp, a remarkable black-feathered, red-combed, egg-producing hen, to be specific.

Achieving the True Zen of Poultry Existence, this particular chicken appeared in Grimes’s small backyard located in the heart of Queens and hung around for two months, co-existing with cats –- an adaptable, admirable bird. Grimes relates some chicken facts, tells a few poultry tales, and, as a bonus, gives a quick historical tour of Queens.

cover art

My Fine Feathered Friend

William Grimes

(North Point Press)

That’s it. That’s the book. Eighty-five pages of superbly crafted chicken commentary. Grimes writes:

Sometimes I’d hear the chicken before I saw it, cackling and clucking as it made its rounds, digging its powerful toes into the dirt border along the walkway. In spring the border would be filled with flowers, but now it lay fallow for the winter, and the chicken, bearing down, sent the dirt flying until the concrete walkway was punctuated with conical piles of rich earth. If the chicken did manage to turn up a grub or a worm, I never saw it. Did the mere activity of looking for food give it a sense of satisfaction? Or did chickens ensure personal happiness by setting their expectations very, very low?

Fans of Grimes’s column in the New York Times will recognize the chicken. He wrote about her in the Food Section and was rewarded with a “bonanza of new chicken information.” Grimes was inundated with chicken stories.

Everybody in the United States but me, it seemed, had vivid childhood memories of chickens. Older readers recalled chickens of days past and farms that had long since been turned into shopping malls or suburban subdivisions. Even cities like New York had rural patches only a couple generations ago. Colorful chicken stories from younger readers reminded me that there are still huge areas of the United States where farm life flourishes. I even heard contemporary New York chicken stories. I was not alone after all.

Just a gentle reminder of our rural past, a short tale of one couple’s (dare I say it?) friendship with a chicken. What’s the deal? Why would North Point Press go to all the trouble to produce and print a small book like this? As soon as I complete my Amazon book order, I’ll explain. I have to order three more copies of My Fine Feathered Friend because I bought the five copies available at my local Barnes and Noble.

That done, now I’ll tell you the “why.” This is the most pleasant, entertaining, delightful essay I have read in years. Savor it on a Sunday afternoon. A rare literary excursion fit for all belletristic travelers, My Fine Feathered Friend belongs in the hands of the masses.

Buy one for each of your friends, for good ol’ Mom on Mother’s Day, and if she and Dad don’t cohabit, buy him a copy for Father’s Day. Don’t forget sis, and Uncle Edgar and Aunt Velma. There’s really not much more to say about it.

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