Sunday, December 28, 2014

Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff

Nine stories about articulate pissed off women

My favorite was the first, ”Lucky Chow Fun”, about a fat girl in an upstate town trying to fit in on the guys swim team and having to deal first with her vulnerable family and then with Chinese restaurant that alternates as a whorehouse. That story, with the use of lyrical lush sentences, created a real sense of time and place. “Blythe,” as well, had a crazy energy, a take on the Anne Sexton/Maxine Kumin friendship. The rest of the stories, for the most part, left me cold. Finally, the title story annoyed me, much the way it had annoyed me when I read it in Best American Short Stories. The main character was a pain and I didn’t care what happened to her.

The strength of this collection is the offbeat point of view, the unique eccentric details that deepened the characters and deepened their relationships. I loved the voice, the facility with language and consonance. Many of the stories take place over lifespans, a historical novel squeezed into twenty pages. The weakness, for me, is the frequent collapse into sentimentality. I prefer stories more gritty and realistic. What does this collection say about women? That they are victims? Part of the problem (and part of the delight too) was that one of my pleasures was recognizing the original text the story was derived from. I should have been concentrating on the emotions, instead I was thinking, O, it’s Abelard and Heloise. I want to be entranced, not figuring out a cross word puzzle.

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