Jennifer Spiegel's Reviews > Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories

Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff
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Nov 20, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: five-star-books

I really like this book. First, there’s the title. Then, there are the stories. The title is somehow tender and savage at the same time. The stories got me. One after the other.

Before my two or three readers gasp, “But she LIKES everything,” let me tell you: It’s Not True. I’m still trying to figure out the politics, if you will, of the book review. Don’t say anything if you don’t have anything nice to say? Never give a bad review? So what good is a review if it’s no review at all?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I do know that I’m talking about this one because I liked it. I guess I’d say that the stories were about the plight of the modern and contemporary heterosexual woman who is often a wife and mother. How normal. How non-alternative. I suppose that not everyone relates to them—but my guess is that everyone could. The beauty of fiction is finding the universal—what is applicable to all humans regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, background, etc.—in the particular. Right? So, these stories were particularly about women but they weren’t just for women. (I mentioned this elsewhere—in my review of Benjamin Percy’s REFRESH, REFRESH, stories that sounded like they came from a man but stories for everyone.)

I would say the emotional impact of this book was immense because of this universality. In “Watershed,” the way a woman who is well-versed in contemporary mores on love and life negotiates marriage in an unexciting town really hit me hard. In “Sir Fleeting,” unrequited love that ignites in Buenos Aires under a shroud of butterflies (Groff uses the word “fritillated” in this one) is exposed as something less than magical. What happens when, over the course of one’s life, one keeps running into that mysterious object of affection? What happens when, over that long life, the love is never realized sexually despite being pregnant with sexual passion? What happens when, after the life has been lived, there is a moment when romantic idealism is knocked hard against the truth? What does it mean for that life lived in the shadow of such idealism? In the title story, not-so-hardened war reporters during the Nazi invasion of France—a woman among them!—make choices that are deceptively simple but truly define their understanding of dignity. In others, housewives thrash about in performance pieces, little girls grow up under the auspices of feminine wiles, and there’s even a castration (though you shouldn’t think it’s part of some feminist victory dance—it’s not and Groff paints a compelling tragedy).

In addition to the emotional impact of the universality of these stories (how do you like that phrase?), I also found myself marking passages with lovely prose. The baby’s “cockleshell ears” in “Majorette” stopped me in their loveliness. A quick descriptive comment in “Sir Fleeting” labeling cherry trees in the winter in Central Park as “those floozies” was only one example among many of Groff’s dexterous uses of language. This was great reading.

Also, I should note that Groff plays around, successfully, with perspective—in such a way that it doesn’t feel much like playing; it’s not indecipherable, but it’s natural.
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