Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reading Journal: Delicate Edible Birds, by Lauren Groff (2009)

Unfortunately, this was a collection I struggled to get through; as a general comment, I found that Groff's florid descriptions tend to write around the action, as opposed to seeming like they are the action. The shortest of the nine stories comes in at 16 pages, and during most stories, I found my eyes glazing over somewhere in the middle. The best of the bunch may be the closer, from which the collection takes its title, in which a few journalists, all from different countries, flee Paris in the middle of the Second World War, only to wind up prisoners on a Nazi sympathizer's farm. And though the first story, "Lucky Chow Fun," was unique, about a brothel in a small Pennsylvania town fronting as a Chinese restaurant, and "Blythe" told of a complicated friendship with a very disturbed artist, several stories - "Majorette," "Sir Fleeting," and the Best American Short Stories-selected "L. DeBard and Alliette" - were too plain for me, telling too ambitiously of complete lives and forsaking the snapshot-like strength of the short story, often having to fastforward many years into the future to conclude. Perhaps a victim of its marketing department - floral cover on quilted paper, rough-cut pages, link on the back jacket - the stories are daintily written pieces of Americana, but rarely do they rise above their prettiness and truly say anything about their subjects. Most of them read like aborted starts to novels, rushed out in the wake of her successful debut, The Monsters of Templeton. I will read her novel, and I think I'll like it more; her talents don't seem particularly suited to this form.

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