A review of Review of Pigeon House by Shilo Niziolek

Reviewed by Kristiana Reed

Pigeon House
by Shilo Niziolek
Querencia Press
April 2024, Paperback, 170 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1959118961

Pigeon House opens spectacularly with the perfectly sinister ‘Torpedo’, immediately establishing this short story collection as a refreshing departure from Niziolek’s usual style. The stories in this collection are ambitious and experiment with voice, perspective and structure. From stunning magical realism explored in ‘Sanctuary’ to the eponymous ‘Pigeon House’, each story has a beating heart, skin and teeth, holding hopes and fears up to the reader. Everything is bared in this collection and Niziolek should be commended for this. 

Niziolek does not play safe with any of her stories; ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’, for example, at first appears like a folkloric tale told many times before, but Niziolek’s vengeful twist provides this tale with a squeeze of lemon. There is something gloriously satisfying and almost palate cleansing in the way Niziolek seeks to subvert her reader’s expectations. 

This ‘element of surprise’, if you will, is also present in ‘Seeking Soul Mate in Granada Theater’; so many collections read like a prospector mining a vein of ore, with some stories being lost in the labour, but with a short story like ‘Seeking Soul […]’ we are gifted comic relief alongside a harrowing tale like ‘Bureau of Evaporation’. In both Niziolek expertly uncovers humanity at its loneliest. Artfully reminding us of the ache of wishing to be seen, to be heard, and to be remembered. ‘Porcelain Ghosts’, however, is very reminiscent of Niziolek’s memoir Fever and exudes Cathy from Wuthering Heights, in a badass, she’ll bite and make you bleed kind of way. 

“I was born with violence in my bones and when I lop the yellow rose bushes down, I cut the thorns from the stems and sew them into a necklace. Rose teeth, I think as they bite into my skin.” – Porcelain Ghosts

Niziolek should also be recognised as ‘the queen of motif’ with images weaved within stories and the structure of the collection itself. They are sweet reminders of a writer’s voice and imagination. How each story can be found within us and within the vast world outside of our front door. It is Niziolek’s deliberate and conscious crafting that allows for three stories to form a triptych. Beginning with ‘Shiver, Tree Woman’, an embodiment of freedom, soon followed by its prequel ‘Here is where I loved you’, encapsulating how the innocence of youth leads us firmly by the hand into love which will break us over and over again, to close with ‘Deer-Hearted’ where softness is finally found alongside the learning which comes with finding true companionship. 

“It wasn’t the kind of love that brought you to your knees, it was the kind that forced you there.” – Deer-Hearted

Finally, as well as mastering motifs, Niziolek is brilliant at storytelling within the limits of a page and a half. Both ‘Instinct’ and ‘Grizzly’ are evocative just enough to create a small world within which the reader can reside and ponder. This talent inspires both admiration and envy; it is a sure sign that Niziolek is a storyteller through and through and Pigeon House is a triumphant collection. Niziolek reminds us to transcend boundaries and glass barriers, to traverse the fine line between safe space and cage, and to look to the forest to discover the truest versions of ourselves. 

About the reviewer: Kristiana Reed (she/her) is a bisexual writer and the Editor in Chief for Free Verse Revolution, a literary & arts magazine. Reed often explores the body, chronic illness, addiction recovery and womanhood through the natural world and written portraiture.