Maria Mutch, "Two Stories Containing a Mouse (or Variations on Bad Love)"


It’s December 16. Maria Mutch, author of When We Were Birds, buys the humane traps.

How would you describe your story?

MARIA MUTCH: A rumination on difficult love. It’s really two stories, one that is very short and acts a bit like a poem, and the other is longer. They were written a few years apart, but the bad (ruinous!) love at the center of both links them, as well as the quick appearance of a mouse, and it’s possible to imagine that the narrator is the same person at different points in her (or his) life.

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

MM: The process involved a weaving together of disparate and incidental imagery (a new knife set, tiny cuts, a mouse, a bowl) with the tangles of the larger problems of love (well, the egoic kind). The dead mouse in a glass bowl, for instance, was actually from a photograph taken by an acquaintance and the image affected me so much that it became the catalyst for the story: what did the mouse experience, what did it see as it tried to escape, and who would take a picture of it once it was deceased? Its captivity and lonely end seemed like a way into the atmosphere of a bad relationship. The longer story looks at two people who are incompatible, except for a potent and inexplicable electricity—the kind we have a hard time explaining, but we’re all familiar with. Personally, I have a very optimistic view of love, but writing about good love is dull; there is something compelling about the kind that has come apart. The writing was similar to my usual process in that I often place seemingly unrelated details next to each other to see how they act or what meaning comes out of their proximity.   

What kind of research went into this story?

MM: No particular research, except the internal-memory kind—I have a thing for phone booths (in fact, there is a story called “Phone Booth” in my collection) and an attraction to a time when they were everywhere. The booth is transformative (think Superman) and transportive (think Dr. Who), as well as marrying the public with the secretive.  

What, to you, makes the short story a special form? What can it do that other kinds of writing can't?

MM: I take an elastic view of form in general, and so I tend to see the short story as open territory—it can lean to the poetic or it can have expansive, novelistic qualities. The brevity seems to really welcome experiment or risk, or the use of a voice or syntax that would be more trying over the length of a novel. For instance, I used the second person, which is perhaps more of a challenge to read over the course of a longer work. In a short story, second person can have an epistolary feeling that seems comfortable.

Where should people go to learn more about you and your work?

MM: My website is

What's the best gift you've ever been given?

MM: There are many contenders, but the one that really comes to mind is a palm-sized, kneeling unicorn made of a light bluish-purple milk glass. A great gift, I think, is one you would never think to get for yourself and yet speaks to some hidden or neglected desire, some quiet corner of the receiver. I wasn’t especially feminine growing up, and I never had a thing for unicorns. But this particular one is something else entirely, a conduit between two similar minds. It was given to me by a writer-friend who somehow intuited that the thing I needed most in the world was this unexpectedly beautiful and odd creature in a softly glowing colour. It sits on my dresser and remains one of my favourite possessions.

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Michael Hingston