I once read a book about fashion designer Iris van Herpen’s work, where it said about one of her collections that the designer is interested in how natural forces can overcome the body. Basically, it’s about how nature can come from within the body and take it over, making wilderness out of the human form.
This description somehow seems fitting as well for Maria Mutch’s short story collection When We Were Birds. The stories are somewhat odd, somewhat esoteric, but there’s something indefinably powerful in them about the intertwining of humans with the animal world. Mutch’s writing is beautiful, and there’s an intriguing co-existence of the surreal and the organic in her stories.
When We Were Birds isn’t my usual type of book — I prefer novels to short stories, and straightforward, plot-driven stories to ‘lyrical’ prose — but I’m glad I gave it a chance. There’s something compelling, even haunting, about Mutch’s writing, that makes me think re-reading this collection will evoke different responses.
A couple of highlights for me were “The Bastard Notebook”, a disturbing and horrific story from the perspective of Bluebeard’s final wife, and “The Peregrine at the End of the World”, a modern fable with an environmental slant, about a peregrine-turned-human-woman with the power to kill humans with a touch. Some of the stories weren’t for me — “Very Old, Enormous”, about a Glenn Gould-lookalike in a cage, just left me scratching my head and moving on. But overall, I thought the stories were beautifully done.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.