Mouthful of Birds

Mouthful of Birds

Stories

Book - 2019
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In the tradition of Raymond Carver and Flannery O'Connor, Schweblin's stories move on the boundary between the real and the fantastic. This selection, chosen by the author, is an indispensible piece of contemporary Argentine literature.
Publisher: New York :, Riverhead Books,, 2019.
Edition: First American edition.
ISBN: 9780399184628
0399184627
Branch Call Number: SS SCHW
Characteristics: 228 pages ; 21 cm
Additional Contributors: McDowell, Megan - Translator

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jstalmer
Oct 02, 2019

One word: surreal. Two words: hauntingly surreal.

Imagine reading Franz Kafka and André Breton simultaneously while watching Frida Khalo paint her way out of a René Magritte painting into one by Salvador Dali as Andy Warhol films it and Rod Serling narrates it and Jim Morrison sings "When You're Strange" in Klingon.

This collection of short stories was a through-the-looking-glass take on normal everyday life, whether it be grabbing a bite to eat, buying a train ticket, or dealing with familial angst. There is a quality to these stories that reminded me of Aesop's fables or Grimm and Anderson fairytales turned upside down and inside out. At the heart of most, if not all, of these stories was disconnection. Characters that felt disconnected from something or someone. A disconnection I felt when it came to most of the endings of these short stories as many of them ended abruptly or in a way that was hard to understand. It was like switching the channel on a tv show before it was done or having the power go out unexpectedly.

But maybe that was the point. Because this doesn't strike me as a writer that just couldn't figure out how to end all these stories or wasn't aware of the strange endings or lack thereof. This collection feels very on purpose. When finishing each, one does feel incredibly unsettled. The last story sort of brings that home, how brutality and beauty do that dance, how life is that dance, and how life is art.

This collection as a whole was riveting. It felt like a smoking gun of sorts. Even as I felt disconnected, these stories crawled under my skin. Upon finishing the collection, I pondered the endings that I couldn't quite understand and asked if they were of my own making. Was my need to find meaning, even when there was none, being called into question? And who am I to say how a story should end. Lives end all the time without rhyme or reason or consideration of plot or character arc.

The stories were well written but not poetic. Being a translation, it's hard to know if that's the author or the translator. While the prose is spare, it didn't have the rhythm of someone like Hemingway who was able to squeeze poetry out of few words. But the author of this collection does have her own very matter-of-fact rhythm. Not once did I find her prose tripping over itself or clunky in anyway.

As I closed this collection of stories, I realized scenes from all the stories were milling about in my head. My mind went back to the first story and I could feel myself still there on the side of the road and then I find myself turning back time and then not being able to stop myself from the brutal sport of needing to capture beauty and to love unconditionally one that devours what I no longer understand. I get away and then make my get away and then try to get away with it and no dice. I feel trapped in a dead-end job and then in a dead-end family. I almost escape to have an exotic affair but then hunger for something that then rages against everyone as life imitates art. I then put away childish things, but not before I color coordinate them. I sit with a stranger and become unsettled before I slow down so fast before I die - or was it someone else? I am then on the hunt and then on the run and then on display for all that I am as brutality and beauty tear me asunder.

For my take on individual stories as I read them:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2774773064

s
smatte
May 28, 2019

"Trepidation" is the word that comes to mind when I think about how this book made me feel the majority of the time I spent reading it, but I felt rewarded with the discovery of a talented new writer when I finally put it down. There were a few stories that I felt lacked completion or coherence, but the further I got in the collection, the more taut the stories became, and the more the book felt like a personal portrait of our troubled times. Subtle stabs of bleak humor, an elusive sense of normality, and unexpected plot twists painted a bigger picture of modern life as a surreal grotesquery that at times reminded me of Kafka and Bradbury, with a hint of magic realism and the kind of disturbing imagery that gives Southern Gothic literature its perverse power.

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