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Mouthful of Birds
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Monthly Reads > May 2019 LH Monthly Short Story Read: Mouthful of Birds

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Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments Since Samanta Schweblin's Mouthful of Birds came in second in the April short story poll, it will be our May short story group read.

Schweblin's 2017 novel Fever Dream was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Mouthful of Birds has been called "surreal and unsettling". Some reviews:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/e...#!

We'll start around May 1. Let's check in regularly after the start date, so we are somewhat synchronized with each other.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Great! Thanks for organizing, Bill. I already have this on my Kindle so I'm good to go.


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Austin (bookgoliath) | 1 comments Sounds good, check back with you all then


(Mellifluous Grant) (raeallic) | 5 comments Sounds good :)


Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments Has everyone's copies arrived? Are we ready?

I've enjoyed the first three stories so far. You're just kind of thrown into the thick of things, and left to figure out the horrific events that are transpiring. "Headlights" is brutally funny and dark at the same time. "Preserves" has an unsurprising trajectory, but I like the cryptic family magic rituals. I enjoyed the 3-page ritual of "Butterflies" as well, though I would prefer the ending to be more subtle.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Bill wrote: "Has everyone's copies arrived? Are we ready?"

I have my copy and I'll start reading tonight, Bill. Looking forward to it!


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Stephanie  H (stephanievh) | 1 comments Just got my copy and eager to begin!


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Just want to give readers who are sensitive to animal suffering a heads up on "The Test". The story is short and quite well done but it is brutal and you may want to skip it if you find violence to animals unbearable to read.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Bill wrote: "Has everyone's copies arrived? Are we ready?

I've enjoyed the first three stories so far. You're just kind of thrown into the thick of things, and left to figure out the horrific events that are the horrific events that are transpiring. "Headlights" is brutally funny and dark at the same time."


I loved "Headlights"! It's my favourite story so far (I'm about a third of the way into the volume and am finding it a bit uneven). I also really liked 'Preserves", the title story, and, to a lesser extent, "Santa Claus Sleeps at Our House". Some of the other pieces have felt more like sketches than fully realized stories-vivid but not quite enough to satisfy.


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Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments I loved "Santa Claus Sleeps at Our House"! The child's voice is nicely done, and my interpretation of "Santa Claus" kept slipping. (view spoiler)

"The Digger" had a great idea, but I thought it cut off too quickly. (And I like being cut off without a conventional resolution.) "Irman" was similarly unsatisfying, despite the hilarious absurd comic routine.

I see "The Test" is next. Will put on my desensitizing gloves.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments I finished the book this morning. I thought it was somewhat uneven overall but I still really enjoyed it. I look forward to discussing it further as everyone else catches up.


Randolph (us227381) | 2 comments I’ve gotten into about four stories now.
Headlights: (gives raspberry) imho this sort of thing works better on the silver screen. I think it could be brilliant. I thought the prose read more like a screenplay.

Preserves: mighty good. Plays with all those abortion/birth emotions. I love reverse timeline stories. What do the women think? I don’t have the same skin in this game. Isn’t Teresita Spanish for Theresa?

Butterflies: again brilliant. Being a parent of three women that I made many mistakes with this pulled a particular heartstring in a way I wouldn’t have expected.

Mouthful of Birds: winner winner chicken dinner. Sometimes I can’t help myself.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments In extremely timely fashion, Vulture just posted a fascinating interview with Samanta Schweblin: Samanta Schweblin’s Deliberately Slow, Perfectly Timed Rise to American Fame.

In the article Schweblin speaks about Buenos Aires, her current residency in Berlin, translation, and her recent work, including a dystopian novel, 'Kentuckis', which is being translated by Megan McDowell, who's translated her other work into English (as welll as that of Alejandro Zambra and Mariana Enriquez).


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Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments Marie-Therese wrote: "In extremely timely fashion, Vulture just posted a fascinating interview with Samanta Schweblin: Samanta Schweblin’s Deliberately Slow, Perfectly Timed Rise to American Fame."

That's a very nice interview! I actually didn't notice that Megan McDowell also translated Fever Dream, and the Enriquez collection. How are the Zambra books?

I'm not surprised Schweblin moved to Berlin; I'm a big fan of the city myself.


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Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments The whole awful exercise of "The Test" ends in what I should consider a satisfyingly futile (!) manner. But for some reason I was reaching for something a little different; not sure what it is.

I like "Toward Happy Civilization" more, with the frustrating social interactions. Then another absurd quest, with a possibly futile ending. Am I the only one who wishes Schweblin had left out the last sentence, or rewritten it significantly?


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Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments I'm not sure what to make of "Olingiris". Your thoughts? (I know Marie-Therese is done, but how is everyone else doing?)


message 17: by Bill (last edited May 18, 2019 09:04AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments I'm really surprised by how funny many of the stories are. I don't remember Fever Dream being this funny, but I'll go take another look at my copy...


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Bill wrote: "The whole awful exercise of "The Test" ends in what I should consider a satisfyingly futile (!) manner. But for some reason I was reaching for something a little different; not sure what it is."

"The Test" worked for me. It was appalling and brutal and grotesque, but, for me, that ending seemed just right.

I do agree with you about "Toward Happy Civilization" though. This just missed being fully successful for me. It started out as a frustrating but deeply strange look at 20th century work routine, at the way we slot into the roles assigned us and can get irremediably stuck in them if even the slightest thing goes wrong (the train station bit reminded me very much of Robert Aickman-did you feel that too?) but the ending wasn't quite powerful enough to overcome the inertia of the preceding story. I'm not sure I'm particularly bothered by the last sentence and its implications as I am by the lethargy I suspect none of these characters has truly left behind.

I think this was one of the most Kafkaesque stories in the book. Very European, perhaps a bit old-fashioned, but also very effective.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Bill wrote: "I'm really surprised by how funny many of the stories are. I don't remember Fever Dream being this funny, but I'll go take another look at my copy..."

Yes! These stories display a great deal more whimsy and playfulness thah 'Fever Dream'. Some are really funny, some are wry and ironic, and some have that terrible humour where you know you have to smile because if you don't you'll burst into tears.


Marie-Therese (mariethrse) | 550 comments Bill wrote: "I'm not sure what to make of "Olingiris". Your thoughts? (I know Marie-Therese is done, but how is everyone else doing?)"

"Olingiris" is such a strange and lovely thing. As I was reading it I kept thinking of art work by Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington. It has that same surreal quality. There's something mysterious about it, something almost mystical and monastic, but also something that hints at very real, very non-ethereal human trauma. "Olingiris" has hints of that same kind of feminine mystery, a world aside and apart from men but open to animals, a world of ritual, contemplation, loss, and sometimes pain, as well as beauty, joy, and satisfaction. It's a good story to think on.


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Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments Marie-Therese wrote: "...and some have that terrible humour where you know you have to smile because if you don't you'll burst into tears.."

So true! Her humor is always so black. I was laughing out loud at "Heads Against Concrete" (ok, I'm sure that was insensitive, but the narrator's voice is so well done), but also cringing at his absurd reasoning processes and horrific actions.


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Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments Mimi, was this the online version of Olingiris you read?
https://granta.com/olingiris/

Interesting, it's translated by Daniel Alarcon, different translator from the collection.

I actually couldn't get a handle on Olingiris. Based on your and Marie-Therese's comments, I'll definitely give it another shot. (The Alarcon translation anyway; I'm traveling and don't have access to my copy of the collection.)

Overall, I'd say the stories in the collection are pretty enjoyable (and often funny), but many won't stick with me. I'm happy to chuckle over tales like "The Merman", but will I remember it in another month? But if a hot merman were waving to me, I sure as hell wouldn't get into a car and drive away.


Randolph (us227381) | 2 comments I finally finished after dragging my feet, not because of the writing but other non-book reasons. The final story put me in mind of Rear Window but in a way more cynical perspective.


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Bill Hsu (billhsu) | 1137 comments Mimi wrote: "BUT at the same time it had a certain lack of substance, and a familiarity in that it didn't reveal anything new to me or represent anything I haven't already seen represented before..."

I can see that. I probably enjoyed it more than Mimi, but as I mentioned earlier, I don't think much of it will stick with me.

Any thoughts on "Head Against Concrete"? I can't remember "Underground" that well by now (see?); I did like the concept, but thought the ending didn't work.

Now I'm itching to at least skim Fever Dream, to remind myself how different it was from the collection.


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Suki St Charles (goodreadscomsuki_stcharles) | 38 comments I thought that I would like this collection more than I did. There was some very powerful imagery in a lot of the stories, but I often felt as if there was something missing. I don't mind stories with endings that are inconclusive and somewhat ambiguous, it just felt that something was missing in the body of some of the stories, kind of like when a step looks solid but gives way under your foot (sorry, I'm not really sure how to describe it). It may be partly a translation issue, I'm not sure.

The story I liked most was The Heavy Suitcase of Benavides. I read (and loved) Arsenic and Old Lace immediately before Mouthful of Birds, and both Arsenic and Suitcase are very similar in that they (view spoiler).


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