A short story I recently read

‘Town of Birds’, by Heather Monley

Read it here in about 10 minutes.

Thinking about why I liked it…

I love characters changing into animals, so was interested in this story from the first line, especially as that first line juxtaposes this unusual event with an unusual response: ‘In the town where the children turned into birds, we were not as surprised as you might imagine.’

The ideas are expressed in beautiful, simple language: ‘Children have always been changing into things—becoming things you wouldn’t expect’ = this is lovely, and true, and suggestive of so many metaphors; ‘the mothers cried, but mothers have always cried at the things children do’ = this is also lovely, and true, and open to interpretation; ‘When a child changed into a bird, he retreated from the world’ = what a fascinating, and revealing, way of viewing the situation.

Grammatical persons are mixed: in the first paragraph, first-person plural is used (‘we’) to demonstrate solidarity; then we have third-person plural (‘the children’, ‘the troublemakers’, ‘the mothers’), as characters are divided into groups; then, from -paragraph five we have first-person, and the narrator reveals himself to be a child at the time these events occurred, but from the language and reflective tone we know he’s telling us this story as an adult.

The imagery is unusual: ‘All over town, mothers threw fish to beckon the children.’; ”Soon, above the twigs, small feeble things poked their heads—the grandchildren of the town.’; I dive into the lake and imagine the water pulls back my skin, revealing something new and black underneath.’

The narrative gaps: the story spans several years, but the focus is on the birds, so we don’t know anything else about the narrator’s life.

‘I want the birds to take me away’ = so do I.

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