REVIEW: Why Peacocks by Sean Flynn
An acclaimed journalist seeks to understand the mysterious allure of peacocks—and in the process discovers unexpected and valuable life lessons.
When Sean Flynn’s neighbor in North Carolina texted “Any chance you guys want a peacock? No kidding!” he stared bewilderedly at his phone. He had never considered whether he wanted a peacock. But as an award-winning magazine writer, this kind of mystery intrigued him. So he, his wife, and their two young sons became the owners of not one but three charming yet fickle birds: Carl, Ethel, and Mr. Pickle.
In Why Peacocks?, Flynn chronicles his hilarious and heartwarming first year as a peacock owner, from struggling to build a pen to assisting the local bird doctor in surgery to triumphantly watching a peahen lay her first egg. He also examines the history of peacocks, from their appearance in the Garden of Eden to their befuddling Charles Darwin to their bewitching the likes of Flannery O’Connor and Martha Stewart. And fueled by a reporter’s curiosity, he travels across the globe to learn more about the birds firsthand, with stops including a Scottish castle where peacocks have resided for centuries, a southern California community tormented by a serial killer of peacocks, and a Kansas City airport hotel hosting an annual gathering of true peafowl aficionados.
At turns comically absurd and deeply poignant, Why Peacocks? blends lively, insightful memoir and illuminating science journalism to answer the title’s question. More than that, it offers surprising lessons about love, grief, fatherhood, and family.
I’m obviously a person who can’t help but look at a picture of what has to be one of the most in-your-face, beautiful birds of the world. But what do I know about them besides that? Not much, really. In “Why Peacocks” I learn enough to know that if anyone ever calls me up and asks, “Wanna peacock?” my answer would be “no.” But I dove headfirst into Flynn’s discovery of life with peacocks as well as his musings about life in general, life with chickens, a pug, an ornery cat, two sons, and his wife.
For this is more a memoir of Flynn’s life as he goes from novice peacock owner, to someone who pays a ridiculous amount of money to save one of them (hours of vet surgery ain’t cheap), to someone who worries about the rapidly disappearing sand in the world as he has five tons of it delivered to his urban farm for the coop. Along the way he takes the reader with him as he discovers the history of the town where Andrew Carnegie was born and talks with Californians who are dealing with a peacock serial killer (skip chapter 13 if you’re at all squeamish). Flynn also faces how to convey bad news about pet death to his two young sons as well as talking his extremely patient wife into letting him get yet more peacocks even as he realizes that these birds aren’t ones you can cuddle, teach tricks to, or let loose in your yard. His story is funny, down to earth, wide ranging, something I skimmed in places (see above note about chapter 13), but enjoyable nonetheless. B