The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[22] “Yesterday’s Whales”

on February 23, 2013


Mothers, I believe, intoxicate us. We idolize them and take them for granted. We hate them and blame them and exalt them more thoroughly than anyone else in our lives. We sift through the evidence of their love, reassure ourselves of their affection and its biological genesis. We can steal and lie and leave and the will love us.

This story is, so far, my hands-down favorite story in Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Birds of a Lesser Paradise. Not only is the premise ironically hilarious, but, in case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a little bit of a sucker for mother-daughter relationship stories! The story here goes a bit outside the normal parameters of this kind of story, though, and I think that’s where Megan gives it its power.

Lauren and Malachi spend their days protesting childbirth, families, and anything the feel has to do with the people they call “breeders”. Malachi believes that humans are doomed to make themselves extinct, to populate to the point of wiping themselves out and allowing the planet to retake feral rule. He spends his nights, along with Lauren, recruiting people to his club of like-minded thinkers, trying to raise support for a movement of people who pledge to no longer bring any life in to what they view as a dying world. Until Lauren gets pregnant.

hipster thoreau

Then, of course, both Laura and Malachi have to figure out what they’re going to do. Which really means that Laura has to figure it out, because Malachi pretty much loads up on the “but what about our public image – I CAN’T DO MY WORK WITH A PREGNANT WIFE” train, and from then on out Laura is left alone to decide what she wants to do. She takes a break to her grandma’s mountain cabin, reflects on her childhood, mother, grandmother, and future. The animal tie here? A year before our story starts, Laura’s mother tells her two facts about whales:

1.) today’s whales sing lower songs, and no one knows why, and

2.) when a whale calf is born, the mother whale will push her baby above the water in order to breathe

You can imagine, given Malachi’s beliefs and Lauren’s struggles, what kind of influence facts like that may have on the fate of the story. But you have to read it to hear it expressed so artfully, with the lines between human and animal, mother and daughter, parents and breeders, brought in to a whole new and illuminating light.

One of the reasons I felt so drawn to this story is because of just how amazingly the characterization is done. Not only is it easy to see how Lauren has gotten swept up in a belief system she’s not actually sure if she believes, but I also know SO MANY boys who meet basically the exact same description given of  Malachi:

He was a vegetarian epicure who snuck bites of bacon out of salads…he always knew what he wanted – upscale Thai, an IPA, the Sunday New York Times, a bookstore without a children’s section.

I mean, maybe its fact that I’m somewhat recently out of a college town, or the fact that many of my friends are still in said college town, but I KNOW THIS GUY and he’s SO ANNOYING in real life but on the paper it’s worse in a kind of delicious way… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. Because I hated Malachi and wanted to punch his stupid face in, but at the same time he stuck to his philosophical guns and I have to give him props for that.

cwRating: OMFGZ!


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