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Chouette

Review

Chouette

Even before her daughter was born, Tiny knew she would give birth to an owl-baby. Her apprehension about her pregnancy and motherhood in general was ignored and downplayed by her husband. So by the time their child arrived, Tiny had made an uneasy peace with the reality, and her husband was shocked by their daughter’s owl-nature. Named Chouette (“Owl”) by Tiny, after delivering her in the hospital all alone, and called Charlotte by everyone else, she is unlike any other baby before her. Still, Tiny’s experiences of motherhood are also completely universal. The strange and powerful tale of Tiny and Chouette is the subject of Claire Oshetsky’s debut novel.

It would be easy --- and perhaps comforting --- to read this book as a metaphor. Tiny, ambivalent at best and terrified at worst, grapples with a pregnancy that she is not sure she wants to see to term. Her husband is ecstatic; they have been waiting for so long to become parents. So Tiny’s insistence that the baby belongs to her owl-lover and that Chouette is of total owl nature (in other words, not fully human) makes for a neat metaphor expressing her fears and anxieties.

"Oshetsky captures the fears and joys of parenting with poetic, visceral prose and brutal honesty. This is a fantastical, imaginative, canny and at times horrifying rumination on motherhood."

However, CHOUETTE is best read as a sort of magical realism-style look at motherhood. It is challenging and impactful if one accepts Tiny’s perspective at face value (an honor that she is rarely afforded in the book). In this way, Tiny’s struggles and her successes are made physically and emotionally real, and her relationships --- with Chouette, her husband, colleagues, in-laws and friends --- all the more fraught and fascinating.

Before her pregnancy, Tiny was a successful professional cellist and enjoying her happy marriage. But Chouette’s arrival calls much of her previous life into question, even as she struggles to care for her owl-baby. Tiny’s husband all but abandons the pair, leaving Tiny to meet the 24/7 needs of Chouette. And fulfilling those needs is exhausting and confusing as Chouette is a small, mostly unaffectionate, feathered girl who hunts her meals and eats them raw. Tiny’s body has changed in ways that her husband finds displeasing. He cannot accept Chouette as the owl-baby she is or allow Tiny to mother her in a way that acknowledges her owl-nature.

Tiny’s time with Chouette dredges up memories of her owl-lover when the two were young and Tiny was wild, carefree and more in tune with the natural world. Her cello is destroyed by Chouette, but they share music in unexpected ways. Tiny cultivates a biosphere in her home, inviting in the flora and fauna that benefit her daughter. Thus a balance between the beauty and the violence of the world is created.

Oshetsky’s vision of parenting is messy, strange and dangerous, yet thrilling and full of heart-pounding love. CHOUETTE is a darkly enchanting novel with a singular literary voice that recalls traditional fables. Like a postmodern myth, it features flawed characters, magic and beings that defy a profane understanding.

Tiny’s experiences are terrifying and transformative. Oshetsky captures the fears and joys of parenting with poetic, visceral prose and brutal honesty. This is a fantastical, imaginative, canny and at times horrifying rumination on motherhood.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 3, 2021

Chouette
by Claire Oshetsky

  • Publication Date: November 16, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 006306667X
  • ISBN-13: 9780063066670