Short Story Review – Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud – Icarus Saved from the Skies

This short story review has been imported from my now-defunct review website.  I will progressively import the remaining and available reviews throughout the coming months, all of which can be found here.

To grow wings would, for many, be a marvellous thing.  Often a person, when asked of their impossible desires, will say, “to fly” – and they of course never mean via the dreary ordinariness of the airplane.  No, the mean self-propelled, generally with wings (and generally white wings).  Dreams, too, often come complete with the ability to leave the ground.

And yet, in Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s Icarus Saved from the Skies (trans. Edward Gauvin), the protagonist, whose wings began to grow at the age of twenty, finds his wings a burden.  They hamper his life and limit the activities he is able to engage upon.  He cannot swim, or walk around shirtless.  The wings itch, and he cannot sleep on his back.  People think him a hunchback, disfigured and gross – and in a way, I suppose, he is.  His wings are not functional, and he cannot fly.

…if I’d wanted at any price to rise above the human herd or leave my mark on the world, I certainly could’ve.  But I didn’t give a flying fig about being thought original or unique; my only ambition was to blend in the crowd, flank to flank with my brethren and fellow creatures in the cozy stable of the species.

At twenty the wings begin to grow.  They start as nubs, small and “pinkish, coarse, and altogether repugnant”, but soon they sprout a down similar to that of a chick, and he is somewhat satisfied.  Even at twenty, though, he knows that to visit a doctor would be to court the uncaring gaze of Science, where he would be examined, tested, drugged, operated upon.  Even worse would be the gaze of a woman, who would undoubtably find him unbearably ugly.

Or perhaps not.  He meets a young lady, Maude, who is fascinated by his wings.  Together they measure them, and by the time they are twenty-three inches across, they are married.  She is frustrated with the slow rate of their growth; he is frustrated that they exist at all.  Days where the wings seem to shrink he is thrilled and she is angry.  Fights occur.  The narrator’s fears are confirmed; she loves him for his wings, not for himself.

Châteaureynaud’s narrator uses the terminology of medicine and disease when discussing his wings – this gift has been anything but.  He considers his wings the way another person might consider an unsightly growth or tumour.  And his greatest fear is that he will become a bird in truth, forced to fly and swoop and perch, his humanity erased.

Icarus Saved from the Skies is less a story about a man becoming accustomed to, and delighted with, the gift of unexpectedly growing wings, and more about the rather humdrum, ordinary problems that would come about from such an event.  It is rather curious how the narrator comes to understand that his wife does not in fact love him for him, but instead for his deformity, but the truth of it is – wouldn’t this be true?  Wouldn’t a winged person always wonder whether it was himself, or the wings, which were loved?  And by extension, isn’t this very similar for a famous person, a celebrity or a writer, or even someone who is rich or impossibly handsome; won’t they always be thinking, when will they love me for me.

The final paragraph contains the sting of the story.  It is the culmination both of the narrator’s distaste for his affliction, and his wife’s fondness for it.  It rings true (as true as anything can be in a story about a man who grows wings), and is sad and terrible for that.

Author Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud
Title Icarus Saved from the Skies
Translator Edward Gauvin
Nationality French
Publisher Small Beer Press

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.


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