Reading Mouthful of Birds feels like occupying some kind of hybrid world of dreams and folklore, where the subconscious masquerades as a stream of characters enacting scenes that aren’t fully coherent with reality, but every moment is vivid and visceral. The short stories are full of nightmarish scenarios, like someone auditioning to be an assassin by proving their capacity for violence, a man being held captive at a train station indefinitely because he didn’t have the correct change for a ticket, or a teenage girl who will suddenly only eat live birds. The protagonists are oblivious to the bewildering circumstances they are about to endure, and like many of us in our truest nightmares, the characters find themselves misunderstood or full of regret.
By depicting themes of violence and depression within unnervingly mundane contexts, Schweblin suggests that the real monstrosity is society’s complicity to and reaction to both of those things respectively. Violence is either glorified as art and entertainment, or glossed over as business as usual. Mental illness and depression are often poorly understood by those not suffering from it, and to witness the characters try to rationalize these conditions is heart wrenching.
As these ordinary people blunder their way through unexpected trials, Mouthful of Birds will leave readers grasping for answers. Schweblin does not indulge in elaborations but will grip readers just enough to keep one’s mind tossing and turning with infinite interpretations.
What he felt at that moment was the complete opposite of fear—it was something close to madness, but with the absolute certainty he was taking the right step. The exciting anguish of recognizing that what one is doing will ultimately change something important.