Winged Metaphor

In this age of Internet, reality TV, and blockbuster movies, we have plenty of access to modern eccentric family life; indeed, we are saturated with it, which may explain why we’ve become hardened to its humor and pathos. An author must tread carefully to make us laugh at and to feel for yet another wacky group of people. Maud Newton approaches this dilemma by removing the weight of representation from her human characters. In “When the Flock Changed” we get to know a singular mother and daughter through birds, both literal and figurative. Always interested in accumulating a “large following,” Lula’s mother replaces her churchy “flock” with actual birds, obsessing over these multiplying animals “like a new mother.” But as she feeds the chicks who “rasp for food,” her own daughter is left to wander alone from Pizza Hut to McDonald’s. Like her mother’s “fucking parrot rainbow,” Lula is meant to be “free and flying,” but instead she sits “alone in a cage, crying out for companionship, subject to brutal whims.” Newton melds birds with family until the reader has trouble telling where metaphor starts and where it ends. But Newton avoids creating only a quirky family portrait by using an original one about a child’s bruised love.

—Amy Peters