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Birds and Birthdays
Christopher Barzak
Aqueduct Press, 96 words

Birds and Birthdays
Christopher Barzak
Christopher Barzak's stories have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies such as Nerve, Trampoline, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Pindeldyboz and Strange Horizons among many others. He is currently living in a suburb of Tokyo, teaching English.

Christopher Barzak's Blog
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Love We Share Without Knowing
SF Site Review: One For Sorrow
SF Site Review: Rabid Transit: Menagerie

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

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After consuming several fast-food adventure tales, I supped from Christopher Barzak's chapbook collection, Birds and Birthdays. These fairy-tale flavored, surreal tales were exactly the taste I sought but didn't know I was seeking.

The Bird Woman works at "The Creation of Birds." She makes birds from moonlight and starlight. The robed Star Catcher, her former lover, stops by to offer her a fallen star; however, he only loved what he could own. Nonetheless, the Star Catcher gives her a star.

The psychoanalyst tries to convince her that it's all her own fault, and sends her home with a bag -- a bag that has his head inside. A star dies when she gives a sparrow a teaspoon of starlight, and the star dies. The Star Catcher blames the Bird Woman, but he has an entire room packed with lackadaisical, listless stars -- all for her. The Bird Woman has to break him, so she can stay with him... although why she would is a bit odd. Perhaps these mythic figures are not unlike Zeus and Hera -- a relationship whose longevity is puzzling. Nonetheless, it captures a lovely style and imagery.

In "The Guardian of the Egg," Stephen's sister, Hester, is growing a tree out of her head, and her hair is golden wheat. Stephen becomes embarrassed when she grows three inches in one month. Their parents have to buy larger clothes. When Stephen trails her into the park one night, he discovers her secret: she is the egg's guardian. Stephen tries to place himself into the mix, but he cannot. He may, however, be the guardian's guardian. Possibly, this is a metaphor for lives stuck outside the norm -- those who may seem strange but later bloom into something beautiful.

"Birthday" -- the most realistic yet the most strange story -- may be my favorite. The narrator is a landlady who visits people's apartments while they are gone. She dresses in their clothes and imagines her life as theirs. Embarrassed, she kicks out a tenant, because of her desire to be that person. Later, she leaves her family to live in other apartments, with other lives. This one derives its power from the character's fragility, seeking out an identity she can call her own. When all fails, she turns inward and finds that a simple desire drives her. This one goes into Barzak's greatest hits, and possibly one of the genre's, ranking up there with the best literary products. Read it and weep... with envy if you're a writer.

In the essay "Re-membering the Body: Reconstructing the Female in Surrealism" Barzak tackles the way surreal art misrepresented women but not men. While informative, the essay handles deconstruction traditionally, the way it occurs in academia. Based on the information presented, it does sound like misogyny. The problem, though, is that the artists are not here. Do we select data that allows only our perspective at others' expense? Whenever I read deconstructions, having read a few I disagreed with that I was knowledgeable about, I wonder if we are not putting someone on trial. If it is a trial, are we even handed or all prosecution? That is, in this case, what were the artists thinking they were accomplishing? Nonetheless, it is good to be informed, and this chapbook is worth obtaining, especially for "Birthday."

Copyright © 2013 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.


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