At the end of the year, I was going to compile my favorite five books of the year, one of those books will be, Delicate Edible Birds by Lauren Groff. I’ve been tweeting at her for the past three days trying to just get her attention to tell her I’m obsessed with her and my mother keeps telling me that I’m probably starting to freak people out and I should calm down and not become some sort of internet stalker, but I can’t.
This book….is ridiculous. I have no words. I’m at a loss (which has to be a first, right?) I can’t even begin to review the book because my jaw is still on the ground from finishing it under the glow of my phone last night in bed. I have a bad cold. I’m filled with Burt’s Bees cough drops and any medicine ending in “quil,” and yet I couldn’t fall asleep without reading the last seventy pages. I ate them. I ate the book, swallowed it whole, pulled a Bluebeard on all of the characters, licked my lips and cuddled into bed. I’m that girl that reads until she can’t see in the morning, and her eyes have purple smudges encircling them. I’m stained with book, lumpy with the characters in my stomach.
I guess for this review, so you don’t have to jump ship with me, I should stick to the facts and the stories.
It opens with “Lucky Chow Fun,” which is the story of pervasion seeping into a small town. It also has undertones of the immigration of foreigners to America and how American’s view these people during day-to-day situations and their suspicions about these people, but that’s just me thinking like a dusty historian. It opens the book incredibly well because it gives you the small sense of magical realism that is winged throughout the book, but also it lets you in on the way women are used to tell the stories throughout the book. (Why are women always being used? Why is that always the best word?) I think it also really ties in well with the story at the end of book, which is the title story, “Delicate Edible Birds.” The last story is a story set in Nazi Germany and pits one woman against a clan of men and how her sexual history is at the climax of the story (pun intended, har har).
In between the stories are beautiful, cunning, magical, realistic, and everything this girl with the curly hair loves in a story. My favorite stories were (all of them): “Blythe,” which is about an emotional breakdown, literally, and a fight or flight syndrome, and “L. Debard and Aliette” which was sadly beautiful, and historical. The characters (most of them) live through the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918. This just proves fiction doesn’t have to prove itself because it can write about anything, it can float or fly, or lie and make you feel like you’re dying of the flu with the other 600,000 people who died – mostly young. Groff’s fiction does this often, talking about wars, genocides, love triangles, expectations of women in a world where they aren’t even allowed the expectation. In order to write, they fake a male’s name on all correspondence.
Even “The Dictator’s Wife” which isn’t about a specific period, or specific people (that I know of) but does show you a clear picture of a town eaten away by military in battle with guerilla’s. In a time of a war that we can’t seem to escape from even if the President is talking about returning troops to their mother’s and children, this story has a roaring resonance. Do the women even know what their men are doing, let alone capable of, and if so, is that even what they discuss? No, instead these women discuss the dictator’s wife because she is the head of the pedestal of women in skirts and buns.
This book is so important for the historical perspective, and the perspective of women in romance, and women at a loss of control. Let’s see why I like this book: I minored in history, and women’s and gender studies. That’s not saying this is a woman’s book though, I’m making everyone I know read it because it is an outstanding work in fiction and can’t be put down no matter who you are, where you’ve been, or if you happen to have something dangling between your legs.
I’m also urgent to get people reading this book because of the lack of support short fiction receives…period. I was going to say in the writing community, in the book publishing world, but really it’s in the general world. It used to be the thing to do, you see Edgar Allen Poe and his short stories taught in school along with Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his lovely wife (who I think is even better than him, shhhh it’s a secret), and yet here we are in the world and no one reads short fiction anymore except for writers themselves. And here it is, the near-perfect collection with stories mostly ranging in the 30-50 pages category so you can feel attached to the characters without fearing the end of the story. This is something Groff does really well actually, I was continuing to think about the characters after reading the ending page, after that last, unfortunate period. I was asking myself, “where is Blythe now…did she move to Idaho and become a mother of three boys or is she doing weird art somewhere in a hollow of New York City, where she is naked and covered in red paint and bamboo (just my daydreaming about her led to my own stories, my own ending to the narratives).
If you haven’t noticed, I love when a story seeps in for days, when it doesn’t just go in your ears, or your mouth, but into your pores and your nerves and suffocates your thoughts. Those are the characters that are living on and refuse to be buried in the darkness of a period, and I think that’s the true sign of a great work of fiction. This is also something I think that can’t be done in a poem (or rarely can…). I don’t want to say anything is impossible (how very Alice in Wonderland of me).
My favorite quote on this battle for the short story is from Andi Miller saying that short stories seem “dreadfully unfinished.” I think this is a common, mistaken thought that goes through the mind of the regular bookstore customer. But what they don’t think is during that train ride to and from work into the city, this short story is the perfect amount of time, or for reading before bed, or quickly scarfing down some characters during your lunch break. Short stories feed transitions, the in-between times when you daydream at the desk and you need another character’s thoughts to fill your head so you aren’t worrying, and sweating on that fresh blouse. This is the age of stories; the busy age, the moving age, the age when people are always looking at their watch, or their phone, or their pad of something digital, and for a sweet break instead of having a kit-kat they could swallow some trees (let out the beaver in all of us). But this isn’t Cassie’s perfect world is it? So, instead, I’m just asking you to buy one short story collection this season: Delicate Edible Birds.
I can’t say that this book had me writing furious quotes down in my little leafy notebook, but it did have me thinking, and day dreaming, and sighing, and humphing in an angry sort of way, all blowing at my wispy hairs floating away from my ponytail at the top of my forehead. I was feeling quite desperate by the time I reached “Watershed” which only made me feel like crying even more with its rushing waters and a character in the form of the wife I’m going to be. Here is a quote from that story: “There is no ending, no neatness in this story. There never really is, where water is concerned. It is wild, febrile, kind, ambiguous; it is dark and carries the mud, and it is clear and the cleanest thing. Too much of it kills us, and not enough kills us, and it is what makes us mostly. Water is the cleverest substance, wily beyond the stretch of our mortal imaginations. And no matter where it is pent, no matter if it is air or liquid or solid, it will someday, inevitable, find its way out.” (192) “Watershed,” Lauren Groff
I may or may not look like I just won the lottery. Don't judge me.
Lucky for me…D.La and J.Mi have brought by a stack of New Yorker’s and Lauren Groff’s, “Above and Below” is in the issue. Can you tell I’m excited? I haven’t actually read the story and this blog post is kind of getting in the way of that for me, so…I’m going to go ahead and put some links and let ya’ll enjoy a few of her stories. Maybe mosey on over to the public library and pick up this book because I’ll be returning it in Wake County this afternoon to get her novel and go giddy-school-girl all over that.
I’m in love.
Tra La La La La La
Anyway, here are the usual links: