Friday, November 15, 2019

The Vicious World of Birds, by Andy Stewart

[F&SF]
Not Rated No Speculative Element

(Mainstream) An unusual snowstorm in South Texas disrupts an extended family gathering at Thanksgiving/Christmas. (8,577 words; Time: 28m)


"The Vicious World of Birds," by (edited by C.C. Finlay), appeared in issue 11-12|19, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.653 (A Word for Authors)

It’s an interesting little story, but the only speculative element is the new species of bird, and that’s not enough by itself.

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6 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Surprised to find you didn't consider this speculative, when you did the also excellent SHUCKED from this issue.

    The speculative element in Shucked is literally speculation on the part of Adney, there is nothing concrete on which to build her suspicion and discomfort - very much the point. Here, there is the strong implication of a kind of rebirth, reincarnation, etc., but which is also open to being no more than an emotional and subjective response by the narrator.

    I would say THE VISCIOUS WORLD OF BIRDS is worthy of reevaluation and full review. :-)

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    1. Here's the distinction as I see it: If you remove the speculative element from "Shucked," there's no story at all. Yes, you can read it as Adney's imagination, but a number of horror stories can be read that way. (I sometimes grumble about that, but I don't disqualify them.)

      If you amend "The Vicious World of Birds" to make the bird a known species, I claim the story remains intact. It's definitely rich with symbolism, but doesn't make it fantasy. For example, the bird seems to symbolize how the deceased mother would hate the changes the narrator hates. That fits with Karen (the new wife) being the one to kill it.

      Even on its own terms, I don't think it's a very good story. The ungrounded narrator, nameless, sexless, completely undescribed, but sour, bitter, and a failure in life (the text says he/she has nothing to return to after this trip) doesn't exactly stir up sympathy. If there were some sort of personal journey here, I'd like it better, but the narrator seems unchanged by everything that has happened. If there's a plot here, I'm not sure what it is.

      But you obviously saw something in it. What did you think made it an excellent story? Perhaps I missed something.

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  2. I'm assuming spoilers aren't an issue going forward!

    I agree that the narrator isn't *highly* engaging in terms of what we get of her (I read this as a female protagonist): she's pretty passive in the face of Karen's cuckooing of the family nest, almost a flat-line in response to her sister-in-law's approach. But the final beat seemed to me like an opening up to something new in her: we have the actual nest constructed from scraps of the family's past, the discovery of the egg and immediate thoughts about how one could safely rear it, signalling something that could mean future change. The final lines are about the possible sensation of a thrumming heartbeat, a focus on new life that could extend to the narrator too.

    I didn't see/anticipate the bird as a known species so much as some kind of embodiment of the mother, harpy-like perhaps. But the escalation of its attacks pointedly deviated from the obvious targets (of the now "straying" husband and his new woman) to her granddaughter, who is presented as the most unambiguously grieving member of the family, and that struck me as interesting. Also the fact that it is the marital usurper who lands the killing blow, which as a saving act might be seen as a path to more complete integration with the others (although I found the specifics of a long-range cleaver throw a little bit Hollywood).

    Perhaps "excellent" was a bit generous of me. I think SHUCKED was probably the strongest story of the issue. But I enjoyed this one quite a lot.

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    1. Yeah, I really can't explain the bird's choice of targets at all--unless it's just a mundane bird and struck at random.

      And that ending: she's going to try to rear an abandoned egg? To what purpose? Obviously it symbolizes a new beginning, but nothing else makes me think that anything has changed.

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    2. Here's a really off-the-wall interpretation. See what you think. :-)

      Let's call the narrator "Crow," since that's the bird the little girl picked for her. Consider Crow an unreliable narrator. This is really the story of Karen's struggle to be accepted by her husband's family despite Crow's fierce opposition. When Karen kills the crazed bird, she wins and Crow loses.

      In this interpretation, the egg isn't real. (They searched the nest before and no one could have missed it.) Crow couldn't handle Karen winning and she is withdrawing into psychosis.

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    3. :D I think the "Karen wins" element IS probably there to a degree - though maybe it's more like she's shattering a symbol of what held the old family together, since the kids go their seperate ways without obviously strengthened bonds to say the least. So Karen has slain the beast and taken its place.

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