Mouthful of Birds: Stories

Riverhead. Jan. 2019. 240p. tr. from Spanish by Megan McDowell. ISBN 9780399184628. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780399184642. LITERARY
OrangeReviewStarBefore Schweblin's debut novel, Fever Dreams, was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize, the Buenos Aires-born, Berlin-based author was grabbing honors like the Juan Rulfo Story Prize for her short stories. Here's a collection that reveals why. Take the first story, "Headlights," about brides abandoned on a highway by their new husbands when they get out to use the bathroom. There are hundreds of forlorn brides at this spot, including a nasty older woman impatient with their moaning; the atmosphere is nightmarish, and the ending is a slug in the gut. In other stories, a father bemoans a daughter who has taken to eating live birds, a teenager with a temper grows up to become an esteemed painter of heads being smashed into concrete, and a vacationer who's rented a remote shore house finds a man who insists he's been hired to dig a hole in the yard. Women's subjugation, our insatiable (perhaps bestial) urges, art as mediation, how little we control—Schweblin ponders weighty issues while spooking her readers.
VERDICT Surreal, disturbing, and decidedly original, these pieces aren't easy reading but will enthrall literati and sophisticated readers of fantasy and horror. [See Prepub Alert 7/16/18.]
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