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Chouette
Cover of Chouette
Chouette
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LONGLISTED FOR THE 2022 PEN/FAULKNER AWARD FOR FICTION

"Claire Oshetsky's novel is a marvel: its language a joy, its imagination dizzying." —Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind

An exhilarating, provocative novel of motherhood in extremis

Tiny is pregnant. Her husband is delighted. "You think this baby is going to be like you, but it's not like you at all," she warns him. "This baby is an owl-baby."

When Chouette is born small and broken-winged, Tiny works around the clock to meet her daughter's needs. Left on her own to care for a child who seems more predatory bird than baby, Tiny vows to raise Chouette to be her authentic self. Even in those times when Chouette's behaviors grow violent and strange, Tiny's loving commitment to her daughter is unwavering. When she discovers that her husband is on an obsessive and increasingly dangerous quest to find a "cure" for their daughter, Tiny must decide whether Chouette should be raised to fit in or to be herself—and learn what it truly means to be a mother.

Arresting, darkly funny, and unsettling, Chouette is a brilliant exploration of ambition, sacrifice, perceptions of ability, and the ferocity of motherly love.

LONGLISTED FOR THE 2022 PEN/FAULKNER AWARD FOR FICTION

"Claire Oshetsky's novel is a marvel: its language a joy, its imagination dizzying." —Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind

An exhilarating, provocative novel of motherhood in extremis

Tiny is pregnant. Her husband is delighted. "You think this baby is going to be like you, but it's not like you at all," she warns him. "This baby is an owl-baby."

When Chouette is born small and broken-winged, Tiny works around the clock to meet her daughter's needs. Left on her own to care for a child who seems more predatory bird than baby, Tiny vows to raise Chouette to be her authentic self. Even in those times when Chouette's behaviors grow violent and strange, Tiny's loving commitment to her daughter is unwavering. When she discovers that her husband is on an obsessive and increasingly dangerous quest to find a "cure" for their daughter, Tiny must decide whether Chouette should be raised to fit in or to be herself—and learn what it truly means to be a mother.

Arresting, darkly funny, and unsettling, Chouette is a brilliant exploration of ambition, sacrifice, perceptions of ability, and the ferocity of motherly love.

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About the Author-
  • Claire Oshetsky is a novelist whose writing has appeared in Salon, Wired, and the New York Times. She lives with her family in California. Chouette draws on her own experiences of motherhood.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    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.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Online Review)

  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 20, 2021
    Oshetsky’s wild and phantasmagorical debut takes a Dantean journey through the violent fever dreams of a woman in the trials of pregnancy and early motherhood. Tiny, an accomplished cellist, believes she has been impregnated by her “owl-lover” and that the baby inside her will most certainly be an “owl-baby.” Her husband fails to understand this, and Tiny leads the reader into the lonely terror she feels as she considers abortion, followed by her overwhelming, hormone-driven desire to have and protect the child. When Chouette is born, she is indeed strange: winged, ferocious, and ugly. Tiny’s husband, who insists on calling his daughter Charlotte, goes to great lengths to try to fix her, taking her to dicey doctors offering outlandish cures. But encouraged by Tiny, Chouette is allowed to become her true self. Tiny feeds Chouette frozen pinkie mice, and she hunts gophers in the backyard. When the husband finally tries to wrest Chouette away from Tiny, it becomes a mortal battle between good and evil. Tiny’s day-to-day struggles with child-rearing, blood-soaked and feces-covered, on the one hand offer a familiar view of a young mother’s delirious tedium, with the desperation and horror made vivid and strange by Oshetsky’s parable. No reader who has cared for a tiny human being will fail to recognize the battleground this talented author has conjured.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from December 1, 2021

    DEBUT Early in Oshetsky's debut, narrator Tiny intones, "I prefer to speak in metaphor: That way no logic can trap me"--a sentiment that seems to apply to the author herself. The story of a mother who gives birth to an owl-baby and proceeds to ferociously fight for her child's individuality and happiness, this novel is rife with metaphorical suggestion but thankfully resists burying any kind of explicit thesis within its surreal narrative. Instead, Oshetsky lets the story take a freer, distinctly fabulist shape, using the language and imagery of a dark fairy tale but refusing easy analogy; think a minimalist riff on Helen Oyeyemi, married to the disquieting phantasmagoria of Samanta Schweblin's Fever Dream. Yes, it's a novel primarily about motherhood--the dizzying tedium, the terror and paranoia, the helplessness, the tension between retaining a tether to the wider world and committing oneself to another person--but Oshetsky is careful to take her story to surprising places, frequently brutal if strikingly beautiful. What really sings here, however, is Oshetsky's spare but elegant language, a linguistic nocturne for readers that gracefully matches the classical music always humming in Tiny's head, an articulation of ecstasy and pain, fear and hope. VERDICT Balancing parabolic storytelling with eloquent humanism isn't an easy undertaking, but Oshetsky's concise debut understood the task, and it soars.--Luke Gorham, Galesburg P.L., IL

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • New York Times Book Review

    "Searing and ethereal.... [Chouette focuses] squarely on Tiny's fierce love as she battles her husband and nature to allow Chouette to be wild and exact, stakes that feel frightening and true to life.... A harrowing and magnificent fable." — New York Times Book Review

    "Oshetsky's book is surrealism at its best.... "Chouette," which abounds with humor and lush imagery, forces parents to consider their relationship with their children.... The book has deep and universal resonance." — San Francisco Chronicle

    "Weirdly funny and bold, this novel will make you look at maternal sacrifice in a new way." — Real Simple

    "By turns poetic, gory, heartbreaking and strange.... An engrossing, surreal portrayal of motherhood." — NPR

    "It would not surprise me if Chouette finds a place in the feminist literary canon. It has lingered in my mind in a way that only the most original works do. In its exploration of difference – of disability, of queerness – it feels truly modern, but in its themes of love and sacrifice, it is the oldest tale in the world." — The Guardian

    "[Chouette] has one of those charming covers that call out to you from the shelves of the bookstore. And luckily, in this case, the novel does not disappoint, transporting you into a world both imaginary and strikingly real." — Campus Circle

    "Viscous, tender, baffling, and glorious, Chouette is an unforgettable fairy tale that glitters darkly with Oshetsky's raw and soaring brilliance. Part love letter, part lament, Chouette astonishes as each perfected sentence burrows deep into the maternal shadows of love, possession, selfhood, and sanity. A bone-deep, breathtaking wonder." — Rachel Yoder, author of Nightbitch

    "Oshetsky's writing is virtuosic, laced with dry humor, and perfectly matched to the parable she unfolds.... A fever dream of a novel that will enchant fans of contemporary fabulism." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    "Chouette is deeply felt, linguistically gorgeous, and wonderfully disorienting up to its final breathless pages—a stunning meditation on motherhood and identity truly unlike anything I've ever read before." — Claire Lombardo, author of The Most Fun We Ever Had

    "A Dantean journey through the violent fever dreams of a woman in the trials of pregnancy and early motherhood.... No reader who has cared for a tiny human being will fail to recognize the battleground this talented author has conjured." — Publishers Weekly

    "Claire Oshetsky's novel is a marvel: its language a joy, its imagination dizzying. Every time I thought I had cracked Chouette's central metaphor—aha, it's about motherhood! No, marriage! No, music!—the book flew out my grasp like a wary bird. It's a truly exhilarating read." — Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind

    "Written in perfectly balanced prose, Chouette does what the very best fantastical work does: it renders a vividly absurd picture which, as we look closer, depicts our reality more sharply than any realism could do. Exuberant, maddened, and sly, this book gives more straight-talk about the vagaries of motherhood than a dozen how-to manuals." — Brian Evenson, author of Song For the Unraveling of the World

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