The sense of the tangible world is central in Schweblin’s work ... Kafka conveyed the manner in which the world grinds people up with its meaninglessness, with its churn toward death; Schweblin finds dark comedy in this same trap ... quite funny in a slightly horrifying way ... Schweblin’s storytelling is so many things, among them cultural satire ... For English-speaking audiences, the match between Schweblin and her translator Megan McDowell is a thing of perfection ... The way Schweblin writes is luxurious, and also incredibly direct ... While Schweblin executes each narrative move with propulsive confidence, as though of course it would not go any other way, it is also impossible to guess where a Schweblin story is going. One of the greatest effects of Schweblin’s writing is the sensation of having a trapdoor kicked open in your own mind.
These 20 stories display the full range of Schweblin’s tone and effects. These are funny stories and terribly sad ones; there are some that feel gleaned from outtakes to 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,' while others would make Stephen King tip his hat in appreciation ... This is an extraordinarily well-ordered collection ... Here at last is why Schweblin’s tales are so piercing and make such a lasting mark. Throughout the book people question their actions. They wonder about whether what they’re doing is right. If the order in which they tell their story is accurate. It’s hard to think of a story collection this strange that feels so much like life.
[Schweblin's] new short story collection, Mouthful of Birds, is just as ethereal and bizarre as its predecessor, and it proves that Schweblin is a master of elegant and uncanny fiction ... Schweblin is gifted at treating the otherworldly with a matter-of-fact attitude, writing about the surreal as if it were unremarkable ... Schweblin evokes feelings of dread and existential horror in a way that's deceptively simple. And her writing, beautifully translated by Megan McDowell, is consistently perfect; she can evoke more feelings in one sentence than many writers can in a whole story ... Mouthful of Birds is a stunning achievement from a writer whose potential is beginning to seem limitless.
Childhood, and its contusions, are...the governing preoccupations of the Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin. Her stories are obsessed with notions of purity and danger; with the ways people can be deformed, very early on, in the name of tenderness, teaching and care. All this without a whisper of sentimentality ... to me, her true ancestor could only be David Lynch; her tales are woven out of dread, doubles and confident loose ends ... The new collection is impressive, but it lacks the finish of [her novel] Fever Dream. It contains three perfect stories...three stinkers and a handful of exploratory sketches. There’s a feeling of peeking into Schweblin’s notebook, of watching her early experiments with technique ... These stories spiral into their own circles of madness, but they all belong to the same universe. Odd plot points repeat: mysterious holes in the ground, violence to animals, violence to children, violence to children disguised as animals ... What makes Schweblin so startling as a writer, however, what makes her rare and important, is that she is impelled not by mere talent or ambition but by vision ... Schweblin’s dark farces just might awaken you to some of your own.
The celebrated work of Argentine author Samanta Schweblin... manages to challenge literary categorization without putting off readers with annoying postmodern noodling or arcane language. In Mouthful of Birds, Schweblin’s first collection of stories, her sparse, surrealist voice conjures a menagerie of disturbed families and dead animals, and empty landscapes teeming with hidden menace and meanings. Even the sparest of these stories elicits the same jolt as viewing an accomplished painter’s preliminary sketches and visual studies.
Throughout this remarkable book, what seizes the characters’ attention, and ours, often has the dissimulated air of a revelation that’s still in the midst of disclosure ... intensities of feeling and portent encircle these tales like a thickening mist that’s never thuddingly dispelled by a simple twist or tidy resolution ... restores something of Fever Dream’s somnambulant rhythm and furtive prose. Schweblin again distends suspenseful searches and approaching crises; such aspects, in exhilarating or unnerving ways, often seem to be interminably unfurling. Her writing can bring to mind the disconcerting power of Inger Stevens, in The Twilight Zone’s 'The Hitch-Hiker', pensively driving along roads, both chasing and eluding some terrible truth.
To call these stories weird or experimental isn’t exactly on the mark. Schweblin is a masterful technician and builds elegant character arcs and narratives that accelerate in esoteric ways. While the content may be peculiar, the form is meticulous. The collection is chock-full of masterful reversals, last-minute turns that showcase Schweblin’s ability to carry a story to a satisfying close. However, in succession, these surprises come to be somewhat expected. The stories that lean heavily on this structure are frontloaded in the first half of the collection, so that the latter works bring a renewed sense of energy, but by that point it’s difficult to shake the anticipation of the coming magic trick ... Mouthful of Birds presents a medley of fantastic and absurd situations, but with a heaping spoonful of self-awareness, so that the curtain is partially pulled back on its own wonder, making the sleight of hand known, but no less understood, and all the more thrilling.
The minimalistic and uncanny stories contain enough of everyday life—french fries, ailing parents, exact change—to make the incursions of strange figures like a merman, or a teenager who eats only live birds, seem acceptable, even plausible. Often compared to her compatriots Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges, Schweblin does share their mastery of short fiction. Her eerie, not-quite-right settings, however, hearken to contemporaries like Mario Bellatín and Haruki Murakami ... Schweblin invites us to linger in that disoriented place between sleep and waking, in order to see what we accept as natural and permanent with new eyes and, perhaps, imagine another way.
... nimbly translated ... Rather than resolving or smoothing over these encounters, Schweblin twists them, leaving the reader with a visceral feeling of unease ... A few of the stories do not conclude so much as abruptly end, leaving the reader with a greater sense of mood rather than plot, in the style of Silvina Ocampo. On the whole though, endings are important to Schweblin and many of the stories in this collection harken back to an oft-quoted boxing analogy from Julio Cortázar: if the novel wins by points, the short story wins by knockout ... In the best of these stories, Schweblin creates landscapes that are both concrete and ethereal ... a darkly inventive collection that displays the talents developed over nearly two decades by one of Argentina’s best contemporary authors.
... nothing short of breathtaking ... Schweblin’s writing is spare and direct. Each word is clear and crisp ... Schweblin delivers an unadulterated emotional impact—she succeeds, time and time again. And when you finally collect yourself from the emotional bruising, you begin to reflect on what she is really trying to say ... Some of the stories are intimate glimpses into facets of love, between father and son, between spouses, siblings. Little observations with deep echoes. Other stories seem to be there just to roil emotions, push buttons—to upset the reader without explaining why. To make the reader more emotionally aware ... You want to challenge yourself? Read Samanta Schweblin. But be forewarned: You won’t emerge unscathed.
Weirdness—or perhaps more accurately, fabulism—is everywhere in contemporary short fiction. But what separates Schweblin from the pack is the firm foot she has planted in frank horror, and her laconic style, expertly translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell ... It [is] this restraint...that mark these 20 stories, causing them to linger in the mind long after their final lines ... Mouthful of Birds is precisely that rare mix: beauty and horror.
Impatience can be a great virtue in the domain of the short story. Readers, after all, don’t have much patience themselves. In a few of the twenty stories here, the feeling that things are moving too quickly works very well ... In others, the result is more skeleton than story. This can be its own aesthetic ... You get the sense that [Schweblin] feels deeply involved with her characters, even as she tortures them ... These are dark tales, full stop. Sometimes someone happens to do something funny. Schweblin’s work with parental fear and obligation is inspired, especially when she blends it seamlessly into environmental anxiety ... Other themes feel incompletely approached. The absurdity of class differentiation, for example, doesn’t really hit its mark in ... The one thematic vein that runs through all these stories is that of slow entrapment, be it within a particular situation or a greater societal system. Reading them can feel, at the best of times, like being tipped forward on a great slide that ends in complicity. There is a resonance, in this way, with the queasy helplessness of Kafka or of Camus.
Part of the reader’s pleasure is waiting for the surprise, the off detail that converts the banal moment into the anomaly. We are often not sure where the fantasy is located, inside or outside the characters’ minds. The stories thrive on this ambiguity ... the energy of Schweblin’s prose, carefully replicated in McDowell’s translation, comes precisely from its pared-down quality ... As her work matures, Schweblin is revealing herself to be most masterful, and her material most charged, when she is groping along the murky line between reality and fantasy, rather than out in the daylight performing the fantastic flash.
[Schweblin’s] stubborn, unapologetic resistance to revelation is one of the things that makes Mouthful of Birds, her debut collection in English, such a success ... Whole selections of tales with clever twists can suffer diminishing returns, as the reader starts trying to pre-empt the surprises, but that doesn’t happen here – these aren’t narrative twists, so much as persistent underminings. Each story leaves your foundations just a little less firm, and over 20 pieces the effect is cumulative ... As if she is determined to find the deepest way into her readers’ nightmares, many of the fears that Schweblin worries at repeatedly are primal.
Anyone who read and was captivated by Schweblin’s eerie novella Fever Dream, published last year, will relish this earlier volume, which has many of the same strange, disturbing preoccupations ... While at least four or five of the stories in Mouthful of Birds are utterly compelling, a few are so economical with words that they end up falling flat ... That said, the writing, in Megan McDowell’s practised hands, is for the most part urgent and suspenseful, and will no doubt send a shiver up your spine as you next contemplate your domestic relationships, both human and non-human.
The short story is a genre within which reality is easily distorted, from the slightly off-kilter to the downright grotesque. Acclaimed Argentine author Samanta Schweblin ups the ante with Mouthful of Birds though ... Schweblin’s...particular genius lies in the fact that there’s something inherently savage and ungovernable about her work: each of these eerie, shocking stories crouches like a tiny feral beast, luring you in with false promises of docility, only to then sideswipe you with sharpened claws and bared fangs. Mouthful of Birds is a collection haunted by lost souls ... The collection lacks the polished perfection of the magnificent Fever Dream. Yet, given that the stories were published in the original Spanish before the novel brought Schweblin to the attention of English-language readers—her translator is Megan McDowell, whose skill is second to none—that’s not a criticism. Of the 20 stories included here, a few inevitably fall flat, but even those that don’t quite work have left indelible images blistered in my mind. The finest offerings here beg to be illustrated by Paula Rego then animated by David Lynch—only two fellow masters of the macabre could do Schweblin’s work justice.
Women's subjugation, our insatiable (perhaps bestial) urges, art as mediation, how little we control—Schweblin ponders weighty issues while spooking her readers ... Surreal, disturbing, and decidedly original, these pieces aren't easy reading but will enthrall literati and sophisticated readers of fantasy and horror.
The 20 stories that feature in the book not only exhibit Schweblin’s uncanny skill to immediately establish mood, but also her ability to discuss difficult topics and themes by embracing the surreal, the strange, and the grotesque ... To an extent, this is a collection depicting an author learning her craft and as a consequence not every story works; some are a little too opaque, some lean too heavily on the absurd, and some feel like experiments in tone and style rather than self-contained pieces. But even the weakest piece has a mood, an atmosphere that evokes an emotional response.
These twenty stories are polished and precise, but they are less sparkling gems than hunks of amber showcasing the bizarre insects trapped inside ... No matter how strange Schweblin gets, her stories are always gripping thanks to her understanding of tension ... Mouthful of Birds is like a drawer filled with strange, bizarre, and unsettling objects. If you are drawn to the dark and the weird, these are excellent stories to both make you think and keep you up at night.
Mouthful of Birds, the collection, bears the hallmarks of having been forged in a scarred, psychoanalytically informed, unforgiving Latin American sensibility, filled as it is with brutal authoritarian figures and casually committed murders, and families literally torn apart by sadistic and malign forces, or else downright banal family dynamics. What occurs in its fictions is so tough on the psyche, so hard on the emotions, I was left cowering, then running to comprehend what part of Argentina’s history and politics might be present in what Schweblin chooses to say, or play with, in these harrowing stories ... a reader must pinch herself through much of this collection, because it’s not possible to really know what Schweblin is up to.
Mouthful of Birds, Schweblin’s new collection of short stories, demonstrates a similar blending of genres [to her previous work], and a comparable climate of surreal, unsettling tales ... Delving into the cryptic depths of the human psyche, this is a highly imaginative and thought-provoking collection, deftly translated by Megan McDowell.
A disquieting pull exists at the center of the stories, an inevitable plughole suck from which no-one can be extricated ... Because horror and beauty coexist in Mouthful of Birds, like the two sides of a coin sought by every sorry player in a mystifying version of the human experience .
... [Schweblin] once again explores the delicate line between real life and fantasy to devastating effect ... There’s a sense of the paranormal—rather than the magic—at play. Some manage that dance better than others... But when Schweblin carries off the balance, she crafts a twisted reflection of near universal anxieties and experiences ... Despite some uneven moments, Mouthful of Birds is a collection that solidifies Schweblin’s place as a unique voice in world literature—a voice that delights as much as it unsettles.
Samanta Schweblin's Mouthful of Birds maintains its power in Megan McDowell's immaculate translation. Nightmarish and prescient, these 20 short stories weave magic and trauma through allegory and vivid imagery ... Schweblin's works are exemplary short stories. She is a master of the craft, and each piece opens a strange, compelling window into a fully imagined yet artfully withholding world ... Overall, Mouthful of Birds is elusive yet enticing, with some stories blunter than others. It is a ferocious triumph of a short story collection—dark, magic and true.
... eerie and at times thrilling ... The stories never quite reach the same strange and thrilling peaks as Fever Dream. But with twenty stories crammed into just over 200 pages, the collection offers the chance for readers to watch a younger Schweblin mapping her obsessions, and seeking out different modes to explore those landscapes ... Reading the collection is like watching a magician honing her act in smaller venues. Occasionally she lights her sleeve on fire, but at her best, we have the pleasure of watching her discover the power to hold the audience rapt that will serve her so well once she moves to the main stage ... there’s fun to be had in tracing the different ways that Schweblin’s themes reappear in different guises across the collection ... There is also something timely, but often surprisingly flat, about these stories’ consideration of violence ... what these stories sometimes lack is the ability to move beyond the interesting spark or conceit at their center and find a way to surprise or dazzle. Too often I found that the intriguing concept on the first page of the story was all I was left with by the last ... But even when the stories don’t elevate the reader, there is still something exciting about seeing the author at work, trying things out. If Fever Dream is required reading, then the stories in Mouthful of Birds are the deep dive for the reader who can’t get the novel out of their head, and is willing to look more closely to try and understand how Schweblin pulled it off.
A dark and dreamy collection by Schweblin, like an eerie walk through a perpetual twilight of uneasy—and often absurdly funny—states of consciousness and being ... unimpeachably translated ... Though some stories are more desultory than others and may not entirely satisfy, at her best, Schweblin builds dense and uncanny worlds, probing the psychology of human relationships and the ways we perceive existence and interpret culture, with dark humor and sharp teeth ... An assemblage of both gauzy and substantial stories from an unquestionably imaginative author.
Schweblin once again deploys a heavy dose of nightmare fuel in this frightening, addictive collection ... Schweblin has a knack for leaving things unsaid: by zeroing in on her characters and settings to an uncomfortably close degree and only hinting at what’s at the edges of the perspective, she achieves a constant sense of dread. Schweblin’s stories are canny, provocative, and profoundly unsettling.