Mark Richards On:
An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It by Jessie Greengrass
A little over a year ago, an email arrived with a few stories attached. It was from a friend of a reviewer I know, who’d suggested she get in touch with me. I opened the first attachment, and had the kind of experience that editors live for – very rare, but when it happens it’s a jolting and glorious reminder of why we do the job we do: after the first couple of sentences, I knew I was reading someone entirely singular, and that I would have to publish her. Those sentences belong to what has since become the title story in Jessie Greengrass’ extraordinary first collection. In a few short pages – the story is under 2,000 words long – it tells of the hunting to extinction of the Great Auk, and in doing so it compresses our relationship with the world and with ourselves: our assumption that it will be an inexhaustible larder to us; our greed and appetite; our occasional moments of awareness and possible redemption. It’s darkly comic; it’s certainly tragic; and it’s somehow all too human.