Friday, April 10, 2009
weekly book review: delicate edible birds, by lauren groff
As you may or may not recall, I had fairly mixed emotions about Lauren Groff's first novel, The Monsters of Templeton. In a nutshell, I could tell that she was capable of writing some beautiful stuff, but several elements of the book grated on my nerves and very nearly ruined the experience for me. So, although Groff wasn't really an author I felt too terribly excited about, I'm a sucker for short stories, birds, and impossibly pretty book covers, so I thought I'd give her another chance to wow me. And you know what? This time, I think she did.

The nine stories in this collection are set in wildly different times and locations, but are linked together by motifs of love, sex, violence, crime and, yes - birds. The dichotomy of men and women features heavily, and the female protagonists - many of whom are victimized by the men in their lives - are also strong, accomplished women. In fact, it's the characters Groff creates that makes this such a strong collection. It's a common criticism that short stories are too narrow a space to truly develop a character, but Groff's women are so well formed she makes it look easy, and the stories she builds around them are engrossing, moving, and written with an elegant hand.

In "Lucky Chow Fun" an idyllic small town is rocked with the discovery that its lone Chinese restaurant is actually a front for a brothel operating with young, enslaved Chinese girls. "L.DeBard and Aliette" is the ill-fated love story of Aliette, a girl recovering from polio, and L. DeBard, a former Olympic swimmer turned personal trainer, who fall in love against the background of a devastating flu epidemic raging through the early 20th Century. "Blythe" is a haunting story of two friends, art, and madness, and in the title story, five reporters traveling through France during WWII unwittingly seek shelter in a Nazi home. And although these four stood out as my favorites among the nine, each of the stories delivered.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book is more than just a pretty face and that Groff really is a truly talented writer. I may have traded my copy of The Monsters of Templeton away, but Delicate Edible Birds is a keeper. (And not just because it looks gorgeous on my bedside table.)

Lauren Groff
2009, 306 pages

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