Lungs Full of Noise by Tessa Mellas is a collection of twelve short stories. Mellas grew up in Northern New York and earned her BA from St Lawrence University. She earned her MFA from Bowling Green State University and her PhD from the University of Cincinnati. In 2013 She was awarded the Iowa Short Fiction Award. She currently lives in Columbus, Ohio and enjoys a vegan lifestyle.
Since I started reviewing books, I have had some hurdles to clear. Many publishers seem to want to box reviewers into little boxes. I imagine there is a note next to my name, saying this guy is good with World War I, Vietnam, and Poetry… Reject all other requests. I requested a Virginia Woolf biography from another publisher and was rejected because it was supposedly from the feminist perspective and well I am a guy. Luckily, the very nice people at University of Iowa Press gave me auto-approval for their publications.
What attracted me to Lungs Full of Noise was, to be honest, the weirdness. A girl with a hermaphrodite roommate from Jupiter (the planet, not the city) with greenish skin. The roommate, although very different, is taken no differently than someone from Nepal. There is no science fiction sense to the story, it’s just accepted. In another story, a woman has a child with plant tendrils and flowers growing from his head. Again, people think it’s a little odd, but nothing too far fetched. There is a story about girls being sent to a camp to learn to be quiet, and another story of the sky turning white. These are stories where very odd things happen and people simply accept them as normal.
There is, however, a catch with all these stories above the oddness taken for normal. There is an underlying message to each story. Mellas writes some extreme stories where the reader will immediately know the story is fiction, because it is fairly outrageous. What the careful reader will notice is there is something equally outrageous in our own society, that we as members totally ignore. Sometimes the message is very blunt and (maybe) crude as in “Dye Job”, and other times it is a bit more hidden. Sometimes it is very plain.
The opening story “Mariposa Club” girls forgo using ice skates and screw the blades directly to their feet. They find that this improvement allows the completion for more advanced skating techniques. Furthermore, they shaved off all their body hair and performed naked. They eventually needed to paint tights on their body to match the permanent frostbite on their bodies. The girls who did not want to make the sacrifice moved to other rinks or took up other or less demanding activities like ballet. The Mariposa Girls rise to fame until there is an accident and injury and suddenly the injured girl is just bald, naked, and unknown. The message is clear enough to me, and pretty shocking, yet, it happens everyday.
I found Lungs Full of Noise to be a book with a powerful message. It has been the most influential of the twenty books I have read this year and in the top three of the two hundred books I read last year. I picked this book up looking for some bizarre short stories and found much, much more than that. I think, this year, I will be hard pressed to find a book to beat this one. Really an amazing book.