books, Reading, Short Stories, Women Writers

“Birds of America” by Lorrie Moore

          “‘The thing to remember about love affairs,’ says Simone, ‘is that they are all like having raccoons in your chimney.’
          ‘Oh, not the raccoon story,’ groans Cal.
          ‘Yes! The raccoons!’ cries Eugene.
          I’m sawing at my duck.
          ‘We have raccoons sometimes in our chimney,’ explains Simone.
          ‘Hmmm,’ I say, not surprised.
          ‘And once we tried to smoke them out. We lit a fire, knowing they were there, but we hoped that the smoke would cause them to scurry out the top and never come back. Instead, they caught on fire and came crashing down into our living room, all charred and in flames and running madly around until they dropped dead.’ Simone swallows some wine. ‘Love affairs are like that,’ she says. ‘They are all like that.'”

This collection of short stories was my first exposure to Lorrie Moore, and I am smitten. IMG_0004 Her stories are packed with sardonic characters wielding razor-sharp wit. Many of Moore’s characters are the fast-talking, bon-mot-laying people to whom I am irresistibly drawn in fictional worlds as well as in reality (though honestly their hyperbolic wit more frequently populates books and television than real life). I have read criticisms, in fact, of this very characteristic of Moore’s writing, but to me it is its greatest asset.

“Birds of America” is full of sassy witticisms about love and relationships, with each ill-used or unsettled woman more biting than the last. The following excerpts, from three different stories, may provide a taste of what Moore is serving – marriage, roasted on a spit.

“At night, she and Joe did yoga to a yoga show on TV. It was part of their effort not to become their parents, though marriage, they knew, held that hazard. The functional disenchantment, the sweet habit of each other had begun to put lines around her mouth, lines that looked like quotation marks – as if everything she said had already been said before.”

“Marriage, she felt, was a fine arrangement generally, except that one never got it generally. One got it very, very specifically.”

          “Adrienne sighed. ‘But do you think people have sex here?’
          Kate smiled. ‘You mean casual sex? Among the guests?’
          Adrienne felt annoyed. ‘Casual sex? No, I don’t mean casual sex. I’m talking about difficult, randomly profound, Sears and Roebuck sex. I’m talking marital.'”

Despite the rather dim view and the often doomed-status of relationships throughout these stories, “Birds of America” isn’t at all discouraging or disheartening. There is levity in every story, a glimmer in every eye, and a snicker waiting to break free on every page.

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