365 Days of Women Writers

Women writers only – no boys allowed

Day 49: Heart of a Mouse by K.J. Bishop

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There is a fable about a mouse who is turned into a lion, but is still afraid of everything because he’s still got a heart of a mouse. Bishop has taken this fable and literalized it –people are turned into who they are inside.

Some people are turned into volk which seem to be gun-nut Christian right types, they carry around AK-47s and shout purity slogans. Some folk have been turned into cats and dogs and pigs or angels or dreams or bactyls (mindless eaters of some sort).

The narrator has been turned into a mouse, a giant bear-sized mouse, but a mouse none-the-less. As you read the story you get a sense that he wasn’t a particularly nice man before the great “search and replace” happened.

Before he was a cop, a bully, divorced from his wife for reasons we don’t know, but it’s not too hard to guess that it was probably his fault:

Well, I can understand that. It’s how she was, anyway. Vain creature. Wanting someone to look after her but never wanting to be obedient or altruistic. Yeah, that’s the kind of power she’d give him if she was real.

a man who beats his son and tries to make it sound like he had to do it to:

So I have to hit him, not out of hurt feelings, of course, but because there’s no way I can look after him and keep him safe if he doesn’t respect me and do as I say.

Yep, this guy is a real prince and who would want to spend the apocalypse with him? (You can’t help but to compare this story to The Road what with the endless travel and the idyll in the found house that is common to them both. Unfortunately, Bishop easily loses that comparison.)

He starts to change when he finds a hut, and against his better judgment decides to stay there for a while, making a home, and in the process grows, but he doubts himself.

This seems like my old way of thinking coming back, the way I used to think in the days before, making justifications and excuses–murky, weak thinking, pretending to put others first when actually I’m only trying to look after myself–deceitful, slimy thinking. The thoughts a bactyl would have, if it could.

And perhaps he’s been given the chance to be more of a man than he would have ever been in the pre-change world, but at the end of the story when he needs to move on again, he’s afraid he’ll become who he was before:

What I’m worried about most of all is that now we don’t have the hut anymore, now we’re back to where we were before, he’ll change back, lose the brains and guts that last night’s episode proved he’s grown, and the sensitivity I’m seeing in him now. And that I’ll lose what I got back too. I don’t think he understands that, though. He’s only a kid.

I didn’t find this story affecting. It was interesting for the worldbuilding, but the emotional arc the narrator goes through left me cold. Something about the narrator failed to engage me – I wasn’t even terribly repulsed by his brutish behavior. Overall, I felt like the story was trying so hard to move me it ended up being very on-the-nose and had the opposite effect.

Written by Chance

November 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm

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  1. […] K. J. Bishop: bio and works reviewed “The Heart of a Mouse” reviewed elsewhere: Yet There are Statues | Uncertain Principles | 365 Days of Women Writers […]

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