Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir

by Joe Meno
ISBN: 9780810124240

I read Meno’s Demons in the Spring earlier this year, and since then have been determined to read more of his stories. This collection did not disappoint, so I think it is official: Meno is now one of my favorite story writers.

Maybe I am just reading these books at the absolute right time for me (oh, the mystery of when we read certain books, and the impact they can have based on that timing) but I think it is also because Meno’s stories are that good. I’ve found myself thinking about them for hours, days, weeks, and yes, I can say this accurately, months after finishing them. Not constantly — I’m not obsessed — but in that way things come back to you because they got under your skin, made you feel something in your chest that wasn’t too comfortable, so you have to occasionally poke at it to figure it out.

As an object, Bluebirds is a cool little book, square-shaped like an album, but more like a 45 size. The stories are full of folks experiencing heartbreak, emotional damage, longing, wistfulness, playfulness, and painful attempts at connection. The stories — with their plastic deer manufacturing, luggage stealing, and possibly religious miracles — have an emotional quality to them that is hard to explain. They are slippery; they surprise and yet hit no false notes, feelings-wise. The brother and sister trying to make sense of of the world after their father’s suicide, the teen geeks at mythology camp, the middle-aged man up late at night preparing for his colonoscopy the next day are all intensely believable, with their foibles and fragility, all recognizable.

That recognition is what makes the stories work. It makes them bearable when maybe they shouldn’t be, really, the way they can make me wince but yet I loved reading them. Actually, I think it’s Meno’s dark humor that makes situations bearable. Consider the ending of “A Strange Episode of Aqua Voyage”, where it’s the wee hours of the morning before this poor guy’s colonoscopy, and he’s sick and scared and flipping channels, watching through the wavy lines of the adult stations he doesn’t get, only one seems to snap into focus:

The two ladies just hold the man like that for the rest of the movie, no one doing anything, not even kissing, just holding each other, and I suddenly start to cry, too, so happy that someone else in the whole dark world, someone, some adult movie director somewhere, has been through this before me.

Highly recommended.

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