by megan milks on Nov.24, 2010
Last year I participated in the HTML Giant holiday gift exchange and Birds of Lace Press was my secret giftgiver, sending me among other things Anna Joy Springer’s The Birdwisher. Because I was focusing on my qualifying exams all year, I couldn’t crack it open…until now………
The Birdwisher is a modest, zine-y novella, beautifully illustrated by artist Sam McWilliams. Big, clunky typeface, winkingly lo-fi production. It is a treasure. The subtitle is “a murder mystery for very old young adults,” and in her acknowledgments, Springer says she wrote the story “on top of” Dashiell Hammet’s “Dead Yellow Woman.”
The opening scene witnesses a young woman (“the virgin”) using rusty scissors to cut through her hymen. Then a bird flies into her window and dies. The rest of the story imagines what between these characters has led up to this moment, and so we are thrust into the charming and uncanny human-bird society that constitutes the world of the novella, in which Walker Geon, bird detective, has been hired by a young woman named Gwen to investigate the murder of six birds.
Mostly the murder mystery doesn’t matter; that is, it doesn’t matter who killed the birds, but it does matter why, and Walker’s investigation functions as an uneasy mask which eventually disintegrates to make visible a horrifying and perversely humorous parable of sexual assault out of which Walker emerges Gwen’s protector.
There’s an instability of narrative voice that claims a debt to Acker (on top of the Hammett), but above that there’s a humility to the book that doesn’t really care whether it’s read as avant-garde or a kinda chintzy YA mystery. It’s both, of course, and it’s really its own thing, excessive and defiant and vulnerable. The Birdwisher is a story with exposed throat and chest. Brave. Happy bird day.
Birds of Lace is a really wonderful feminist press; here’s their call for chapbooks:
From now until Dec. 31st Birds of Lace will be reading chapbook manuscripts for possible publication. What we most desire to read is the improbable, the hysterically feminist, queered grotesques with muddy boundaries and sloppy hearts of integrity. What we want is literature that you’d have difficulty publishing elsewhere because it’s too disgusting, too personal, too loud and too ferocious. We like a sick sense of humor and sly wit. Some authors we love are Anna Joy Springer, Rebecca Brown, James Baldwin, Daphne Gottlieb, Maggie Nelson, Cathy Park Hong, Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather, Judy Budnitz, Bertha Harris and Sarah Vap. But if your work doesn’t align with any of those people, send it anyway: we like to be surprised.
Please email 12-30 pages of fiction, poetry, cross-genre, non-fiction, lyrical essays or any combination thereof as an RFT attachment to email@example.com. A short introduction would be lovely, if BoL is unfamiliar with your work, but a publication history isn’t necessary. If you’re unfamiliar with Birds of Lace, visit our etsy page to check out excerpts and information on previous publications.