Samanta Schweblin’s new collection of short stories, “Mouthful of Birds,” draws you in with its stunning cover – dozens of jewel-toned butterflies piled atop one another in a kaleidoscopic tumble of color. It’s a fitting image for the stories inside, which attack the senses in powerful bursts of language.
Schweblin, an Argentine author, writes in her native Spanish, and this collection – like her 2014 novel, “Fever Dream” – was translated into English by Megan McDowell. The stories are rather dark fare, and they explore the mind’s deeper recesses in subtle and sometimes horrifying ways.
The collection’s initial story, “Headlights,” begins with a bride realizing she’s been abandoned by her husband at a highway rest stop. She discovers a field full of wailing, plaintive women hurling insults at their husbands and others, and what follows is a dreamlike exploration of gender and dependency.
The subject matter of this collection includes a merman stranded near a pier, a teenager with a curious and disturbing appetite, a man who turns violence into art, children who disappear into bottomless pits, and an aging circus performer reflecting on his life as a human cannonball. In other words – strange stuff. Some of the stories read like flash fiction, just two to three pages, while others are more substantial. All of them have the feel of a Salvador Dali painting or a “Twilight Zone” episode, the kind of reading experience that had me shaking my head and rubbing my temples.
Schweblin’s prose is surreal and hypnotic, and she challenges expectations at every turn. This collection isn’t for everybody. But if you don’t mind a smattering of ghostly hellscapes in your summer reading, you certainly should consider picking it up.