I used to love to read short stories. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. Now, it’s feast or famine for me when it comes to reading them. Well, I must be in feast mode, because this is the second collection of short stories that I am reading in as many months. While I love to read individual short stories, I’m usually not a big fan of reading short story collections. For the most part I find the themes, language, and characters are so similar that it is like blatantly reading the same story over and over again. Thankfully I didn’t find that to be the case with Delicate Edible Birds.
While Groff does have a common theme to which she returns throughout the collection of stories, I didn’t feel that it was done in an overbearing way. She’s exploring women and the hardships and habits that dominate their lives, and how they are able to carve out a place for themselves inspite of their limited circumstances. The women she explores live in different places and times, and have different voices but that combined with familiar circumstances make them unique. The character’s lives are fully and richly imagined. The writing was gorgeous and lush. At times that lushness was a distraction, and I would find myself having to take a step back to reread so that I could understand the meaning, as well as the beauty of the sentences. There were a few places in a couple of the stories where the narrator takes the time to tell the readers that they behaved the way they did because of their upbringing, they didn’t know any better, etc. However the stories work best when the characters/narrators are not giving the reader little asides on how to interpret their behavior, and are left to draw their own conclusions, whatever those may be.
Out of nine stories, there were more than a few which came to mind as favorites or which were particularly haunting. I think my absolute favorite might have been Majorette, the story of a woman who works to pull herself out from under an abusive home life and then goes on to witness the effects that her confidence and work have on the family that she creates for herself. L. Debard and Aliette is the story of a woman determined to get what she wants despite being in a wheelchair due to a debilitating childhood illness, but her efforts have consequences, for her and for her lover. In Delicate Edible Birds, a woman is expected to make an amazing sacrifice in order to save herself and her male companions from the Nazis and a lonely farmer who has offered them his hospitality. And finally, have you ever had a friend who just takes up all the air in the room and from your life and you feel duty bound and compelled to let her, well then that is Blythe. These stories have stayed with me in the weeks since I have read them. After getting a taste of her writing in these stories I am very excited to read her first novel, The Monster of Templeton. I am expecting very good things.