Advent Calendar ’16 Dec 11th: THE LANGUAGE OF MOTHS by Christopher Barzak

It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.

December 11th: The Language of Moths by Christopher Barzak

51fmvd3twcl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Tell me about your first time: As I wrote about in one of my earlier advent calendar posts, its odd which stories you remember. I read Before and Afterlives a few years ago, and gushed about it. It’s a brilliant anthology; you may have previously heard me wimpering enviously about how much I wish these were stories I’d written, because they so often epitomise the style and atmosphere I aim for. And there’s some brilliant stories in here, as my review attests, but when I came to picking a re-read I knew immediately which story I wanted to read again, and it wasn’t one I had picked as a favourite last time. (Which is not to say I disliked the story, because I didn’t even come close to disliking any of them; it was simply that ‘The Language of Moths’ had stuck around in my head long after I’d read the whole collection.)

Sum it up: Eliot has been dragged to country for the summer. His father is out hunting a rare moth, his autistic older sister is talking to the fireflies, and there’s a boy in town who’s caught his eye…

Give me a quote: “Guys like this are enigmas to Eliot. They frighten him, piss him off for how easy-going they act, fire his imagination in ways that embarrass him. He abhors them; he wants to be more like them; he wants them to want to be more like him; he wants them to tell him they want to be more like him, so he can admit to his own desire for aspects of their own personalities. Shit, he thinks. What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I think these things?”

Second reading: ‘The Language of Moths’ does two things absolutely beautifully. The first is the uneasy attraction of Roy, the boy in town; the story isn’t a sparky romance, and it conjures the awkward fragility of a passing fling that is both everything and nothing at once. The second is the older sister’s delirious worldview (that adorably describes Eliot as ‘the little old man’ and sees speech as bubbles bursting from people’s mouths. It sells the magic realist ending in a way that avoids pat whimsy and instead is something quite beautiful and moving.

Where can I read it: The story appears in the collection Before and Afterlives.

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