Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

"Delicate edible birds" by Lauren Groff (William Heinemann, 2009)

Stories from Glimmer Train, The Atlantic, etc.

"Lucky Chow Fun" is livened up by the interjected search for an appropriate fairy tale template. In "L. DeBard and Aliette" there are more swimmers, one of them a poet - "L. comes home from the hospital on the day his new book sells out in one hour." "Majorette" has another young mother. "Blythe" is about 2 mothers who join a poetry group - Harriet's plain (she'll eventually get a Ph.D and write theory), and Blythe's beautiful (but has a history of suicide attempts. She becomes an outrageous performance artist). Harriet feels responsible for Blythe's safety, but gets a job in London just when Blythe's husband feels he can't cope any more. "The Wife of the Dictator" has more mothers sitting around swimming pools, and another woman who attracts attention. More bruised eyes. It has the feel of allegory/fable.

"Watershed" is my favourite so far. The packaged anecdotes are interesting in themselves, and the time-flow is less linear. Stories are retold, changed - "Because I had nothing to do, I finally began to understand the rhythm of the village, its subtleties that I had been too impatient to recognize when I was young.
Are you happy here? my mother said once in April, pouring coffee into my cup. I don't mean with him, she said, nodding toward the living room, where you and my father were shouting at some sports team thousands of miles away. But here?
" (p.178).

In "Sir Fleeting", Nana's story of her life is punctuated by recalled encounters with Ancel de Chair who turns up for the last time, and with effect, at the end. My second favourite story.

"Fugue" switches between settings, the names of the troubled characters not always clear. The one character whose life-story is linearly recounted has the most mixed-up life.

I've read "Delicate Edible Birds" before, and liked it. As with "Sir Fleeting", a woman comes to a moral decision. In this case war journalists are fleeing from WW2 Paris - "Because it had rained and the rain had caught the black soot of the factories as they burned, Paris in the dark seemed covered by a dusky skin, almost as though it were living. The arches in the facades were the curves of a throat, the street corners elbows."

She likes page-long lyrical endings, a final change of gear.

Other reviews

  • Kirkus Review
  • Claire Hopley (What distinguishes her from most of her fellow MFAs who succeed in the difficult task of getting a first novel published, is her sense of life as a braid of emotions, ambitions, constraints and surprises that ties everyone in place)
  • Christina Clarkson (With most of the stories around 40 pages, each is more akin to a novella, and they often span a significant amount of time. All of the stories focus on women who fit the “delicate, edible bird” description with their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. While a few of the stories stand out because of their compelling sense of place and character, several are held back from being great by characters that never materialize into anything more than hazy sketches.)
  • Ann Robinson

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