Katrina Best’s short story collection, Bird Eat Bird, is a fun, light read from an author who has mastered the art of quirkiness, deadpan humor and quiet desperation. The book is quite simply delicious, and reveals Best’s knack for witty dialogue.
“Lunch Hour,” the first story, is an example of that witty dialogue. Giving the book’s title its most un-symbolic significance, the story is about a pelican eating a pigeon in an English zoo. The situation seems ordinary and, besides that species cannibalism, there is no action in the entire story. But the dialogue is simply hilarious, as people from all walks of life are gathered around the improvised feast and react to it, in their own special ways.
Best also masters the character of the quirky, socially inept woman: it comes off as funny and weird when the narrator gets her glasses stolen in a public bathroom in the short story “Red,” but when Ellie, the main protagonist in “Tall Food,” is on a second date that goes incredibly wrong without her even knowing it, it’s just pitiful. It’s sad to see this woman beaming with hope and calculating the possibilities of success, even though her date is a jerk and not interested in a third date at all. It’s basically the same female quirkiness but with a different, subtle twist that reveals Best’s many layers as a storyteller.
“At Sea” is a powerful story about a married woman lost at sea because of the riptide. Newly pregnant again, she doesn’t know how to tell her husband, and the sea that separates them, literally, is a wonderful illustration of the gap that’s grown between them. In the life they’ve built, her wandering around allows her to think, pray and be at one with herself, all the while being absolutely terrified. The ending is particularly delightful, as Best shows the couple’s eventual reunion littered with banality, the two still sadly ignorant of each others’ feelings. A brilliant and sad portrayal of the life of a couple.
Another funny short is “Tripe and Onions,” where a cashier is panicking at the sight of a package of tripe moving towards her. Bouncing from the banal reality and the totally disgusted fantasies in her head, the images she fears actually end up coming true when, because of some mistake, said package falls on her foot. It’s another great example of minimal storytelling. While the events are few and far between, the tone is set with expert ease — the reader is at the store, as much as the clerk and the client.
Katrina Best might live in Montréal now, but she’s from the UK, and culturally, it might explain the off-beat, deadpan, self-deprecating humor found throughout the book. The comedy is found in the tone she sets, the replies she makes up, and the day to day situations that are, in the end, as sad as they can be funny.
Joseph Elfassi is a filmmaker and editor at www.bombe.tv. He is also a freelance photographer and writer. You can see his work at www.elfassi.ca.