These literary stories try to range far and wide, but are often unconvincing, contrived, even mannered. Details ring false, betraying the stories as palpably "made up"; they're best when they stick to the mundane. But Susan Ericksen's narration is better than the material. Her voice is strong, flexible, and likable. She indicates different voices almost effortlessly, and her emotional touch is both subtle and effective. Further, her pacing is excellent. From time to time, she delivers a phrase with the wrong emphasis. Otherwise, for the most part, her narration is a pleasure. If only more of the stories were.
In "Sir Fleeting", a Midwestern farm girl on her honeymoon in Argentina falls into lifelong lust for a French playboy. In "Blythe", an attorney who has become a stay-at-home mother takes a night class in poetry and meets another full-time mother, one whose charismatic brilliance changes everything. In "The Wife of the Dictator", that eponymous wife ("brought back...from [the dictator's] last visit to America") grows more desperately, menacingly isolated every day.
In "Delicate Edible Birds", a group of war correspondents - a lone, high-spirited woman among them - falls prey to a brutal farmer while fleeing Nazis in the French countryside. And in "Lucky Chow Fun", Groff returns to Templeton, the setting of her first book, for revelations about the darkness within even that idyllic small town.
In some of these stories, enormous changes happen in an instant. In others, transformations occur across a lifetime - or several lifetimes. Throughout the collection, Groff displays particular and vivid preoccupations. Crime is a motif - sex crimes, a possible murder, crimes of the heart. Love troubles occur in every story - love in alcoholism, in adultery, in a flood, even in the great flu epidemic of 1918. Some of the love has depths that are understood too late; some of the love is shallow and also understood too late.
And mastery is a theme. Groff's women swim and twirl batons, become poets, or try and try again to achieve the inner strength to exercise personal freedom. Overall, these stories announce a notable new literary master. Dazzlingly original and confident, Delicate Edible Birds will further Groff's growing reputation as one of the foremost talents of her generation.
©2008 Lauren Groff; (P)2009 Tantor
"Groff's skill makes commonplace occurrences seem compelling." (Kirkus)
"Nine wildly unique, exquisitely symphonic tales, full of beauty, tragedy, and the sudden horror of shocking images - this is Groff's gift." (Library Journal Starred Review)
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