Rec: “The Dark Birds” by Ursula Vernon

“The Dark Birds” by Ursula Vernon, January 2017 Apex Magazine, fantasy novelette

Baby tells the story of her family, in which there are always three daughters (Ruth, Susan, and Baby) no matter how many are born (and there are many). The parents are ogres and the children have almost no contact with anyone else, though Ruth does hand down stories of Lily, who came from the great beyond. One day, the mother has another child and Baby thinks she must become Susan but later finds that the baby has died. The current Susan investigates and matters quickly come to a head.

I’m not very conversant with fantasy so can’t be sure, but I suspect this may be a tale modeled on a standard fairy tale or something like that. Perhaps not. And I’m sure it can be read many ways though it seems to me it could be a fantastic retelling of how many women might see growing up in (or near) a small, presumably Southern town. Be that as it may or may not, I like Baby’s narrative voice and how it deftly shows her character and Susan’s, especially. It’s just good storytelling which, perhaps naturally for the presumably dyslexic Baby, feels very rooted in the oral storytelling tradition. Also, while it may not resonate for everyone and only does in a proximate but strong way for me, the depiction of the two-book house (Bible and almanac) and the oranges for Christmas provide extra bits of particular concreteness.