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CHOUETTE by Claire Oshetsky Kirkus Star


by Claire Oshetsky

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-06-306667-0
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

A mother's unconditional love for her unusual child—an "owl-baby"—drastically changes her life and her world.

"Each of us knows from experience that birthing any child is the start of a lifelong terrorization by the very child we love, and yet we mothers are able to bear it because we love our children more than we love our own lives, even as our children blithely seek to destroy us." Tiny draws this conclusion several months into her new life as the mother of Chouette, a baby she conceived not with her husband, who is "kind, strong, steady, normal, and a bit of a looker," but with her owl lover, who is "giant, musky, molting, monstrous, amoral, uncivilized and fickle." As it turns out, her husband is horrified by the baby—whom he insists on calling Charlotte—as is the medical establishment, including Doctor Canola, who pronounces terrible diagnoses, and Doctor Great, who offers deforming treatments. (Doctor Booze, however, doesn't see much of a problem.) Even before Chouette's birth, Tiny realizes she will have to give up her career as a cellist—though music still fills her head, and a playlist of all the pieces mentioned in the book is included in an appendix. She basically ends up renouncing human society altogether as she learns how to care for her unique child, involving a steady supply of mice and shrews, a nocturnal schedule, and a driving need to hunt, claw, and eviscerate. After her husband essentially abandons Tiny and Chouette—though he never abandons his frantic quest for a "cure"—Tiny's extreme loneliness is interrupted by a surprise visit from one of her sisters-in-law, and that is just one of many unexpected and sometimes frightening directions her life will now take. Oshetsky's writing is virtuosic, laced with dry humor, and perfectly matched to the parable she unfolds in this impressive debut. As Tiny puts it, "I prefer to speak in metaphor: That way no logic can trap me, and no rule can bind me, and no fact can limit me or decide for me what's possible."

A fever dream of a novel that will enchant fans of contemporary fabulism.