2022 fiction winner
Claire Oshetsky | Chouette: A Novel
About the author
Claire Oshetsky lives in Santa Cruz with her family. She has two cats, but prefers dogs. Her novel, Chouette, has been longlisted for the 2022 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
About the book
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.
“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)
I dream I’m making tender love with an owl. The next morning I see talon marks across my chest that trace the path of my owl-lover’s embrace. Two weeks later I learn that I’m pregnant.
You may wonder: How could such a thing come to pass between woman and owl?
I, too, am astounded, because my owl-lover was a woman.
As for you, owl-baby, let’s lay out the facts. Your owlness is with you from the very beginning. It’s there when a first cell becomes two, four, eight. It’s there when you sleep too much, and crawl too late, and when you bite when you aren’t supposed to bite, and shriek when you aren’t supposed to shriek; and on the day that you are born—on the day when I first look down on your pinched-red, tiny-clawed, outraged little body lying naked and intubated in a box—I won’t have the slightest idea about who you are, or what I will become.
But there you will be, and you will be of me.