That Quail, Robert was recommend to me by my Grandma Betty. When I was a child and would visit my Grandparents every summer, my Grandfather would often feed the quail in the yard. I can recall the line of birds running down the hill bobbing their heads, anxious to eat, and the way they disappeared in much the same way into the underbrush of the hillside. My grandfather would tell me how devotedly quail care for their young, always willing to sacrifice themselves by leading a hungry fox away from their chicks.
This book is about a quail raised by a human couple and their neighbors and the four years that this quail lives with these people. The quail is assumed to have been a male, so they named him Robert. When Robert lays an egg, they decide to keep the name. Robert was remarkably gregarious around humans and developed a routine based upon her human roommate’s lives that involved waking at particular hours, eating breakfast, socializing and meeting visitors. Not only does Robert adapt to the human surroundings, she seems to thrive in them, fascinated by telephones, responsive to voices, and even comfortably house broken.
The scene when Robert lays her first egg is particularly wonderful. The three-day event caused much anxiety among her human companions as her mood was distinctly altered in the process. She was quieter at the breakfast table in the morning and didn’t greet guests as she normally would. As soon as she laid the egg, however, everything went back to normal as the family finally understood the issue at hand and Robert was relieved to have finished the process. Other anxious events include the accidental eating of a diamond, fluid in the eyes, and a reoccurring lump on her beak, all of which are delicately attended to by her human friends.
Margaret Stanger, Robert’s neighbor, wonderfully tells her story. Sanger adopts a matter-of-fact reporting style to tell this extraordinary story, and we watch with the rest of the Cape Code community as the events in Robert’s life unfold. Their worry from the moment they find the cracked egg is our worry. Their joy in Robert’s daily routine of breakfast on the kitchen table is our joy, and the sadness at the eventual end is our sadness.
What is it that is so wonderful about the story of Robert? I think a story like this is so wonderful because we are able to experience in a few hours of reading the entirety of a life. It is a delightful life, a life that brought nothing but joy to others, and we are able to witness the whole of this amazing life from birth to death. The story is charming in its compactness, and reminiscent of myth stories in its simple portrayal of an ideal and saintly life, a life without a blur or blemish. The fact that it’s about a quail makes little difference.