Mouthful of Birds

Samanta Schweblin’s collection of twenty short stories, Mouthful of Birds, weaves between the realm of the real and the strange, exploring the deepest abyss of human psyche. These grotesque and surreal stories serve as a representation of the reality we live in. They question societal structures, norms, attitudes, and expectations. They examine how a person can be capable of cruelty and callousness.

Schweblin’s habit of turning our reality into something uncanny and menacing is the core of her stories. Mouthful of Birds opens with an impressive story “Headlights”. The story follows a woman named Felicity who was abandoned by her groom at a desolated roadside gas station. After she meets Nene, she finds that she is surrounded by many abandoned brides hiding and sobbing in the fields. The second story, “Preserves”, follows a woman who undergoes an experimental treatment to terminate her pregnancy. She ends up spitting the baby and placing her into a jar.

There is an underlying violence within Schweblin’s stories—violence towards other people (particularly towards children and women) and violence towards animals. The title story, “Mouthful of Birds”, delves into parental roles and fears by telling a story of a divorced couple dealing with their child who decides to take on eating live birds. “On the Steppe” explores people’s inherent desire to have children by comparing this desire to hunting, where couples stalk, snare, and track an “unnamed thing” (children).

Mouthful of Birds also inquire into cultural satire by linking violence and art. Some of the most beautiful art are the most disturbing—for example, Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. In literature, some of the most gripping stories often deal with the dark aspects of human nature, and, as an author, Schweblin is a shining example. For instance in “Head Against Concrete”, the story follows a boy who has repressed his violent tendencies by painting people’s heads smashing against concrete. The unforgettable final story, “The Heavy Suitcase of Benavides”, centers around a man named Benavides carrying a suitcase with his dead wife stuffed in it. When he tries to confess to his doctor, the doctor views his murderous deed as an art. The doctor immediately organizes an art opening featuring Benavides’ dead wife.

In Mouthful of Birds, malevolence lurks around each page, hiding beneath the realness of the setting and of the characters. These stories are like chalices brimming with dread—just when you think it’s about to spill, it doesn’t; just when you think it won’t, it does. If the equation to tie readers to certain stories is tension, then Schweblin successfully mastered the formula. As experimental and surreal Schweblin’s stories sounds, there is no pretentiousness to her writing. As a matter of fact, her writing style is sparse and straightforward. What stands out to her narrative is what propels it—her vision. She homes in on the tangible aspects of our world, conjuring multi-faceted layers and vivid imagery. After reading Mouthful of Birds, you will feel as though you have awakened from a dream to a feverish nightmare.

Rating 4.5/5

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