She eats birds, she eats birds, she eats birds

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Dear Readers,

This week’s edition of Recommended Reading is brought to you by PEN America:

“Sara waved to me happily from the car. I tried to calm myself. I thought about things that would help me walk toward the door, praying that I would manage to turn back into a normal human being — a tidy and organized guy capable of standing for ten minutes in front of the canned-goods shelves at the supermarket, confirming that the beans he’s taking are the proper ones.

If we know that some people eat people, I thought, then eating live birds isn’t so bad. Also, from a health perspective it’s better than drugs, and from a social perspective it’s easier to hide than a pregnancy at age thirteen. But everything, even the car door handle, kept repeating, She eats birds, she eats birds, she eats birds.”

— From “Birds in the Mouth” by Samanta Schweblin (translated from the Spanish by Joel Streicker)

Editor’s Note — M Mark:

Samanta Schweblin draws readers into a recognizable world inhabited by people with computers and shopping lists, good intentions and reasonable expectations. In spare, lucid prose, Schweblin demonstrates again and again that she knows the weight of what is left unsaid in the comings and goings of everyday life. Then, in the turn of a phrase, she forces the reader to shift perspective; she has a gift for sketching comfortable worlds and then disrupting them with images of dark, startling power.

“Birds in the Mouth” (Pájaros en la boca), the title story of Schweblin’s second collection, is narrated by a seemingly reliable divorced father who’s worried sick about his thirteen-year-old daughter and her mysterious appetites… The daughter, it turns out, eats birds. Live birds. And the trustworthy narrator occasionally mentions details about himself that seem a bit off-key. When I first encountered this story, I found myself, almost without realizing it, pushed to look at the family from unexpected angles and finally forced to ask questions about the characters, their world, and my own. How do we ask for attention from those we need? How do we give enough of ourselves to those who need us? What sorts of nourishment, and how much, must we have to survive? What is normal? What is forbidden?

About Recommended Reading:

Great authors inspire us. But what about the stories that inspire them? Recommended Reading, a magazine by Electric Literature, publishes one story a week, each chosen by today’s best authors or editors.

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— Elissa Goldstein was born and raised in Melbourne. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and is the Online Editor of Electric Literature. You can find her here.

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