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Birds of America: Stories Paperback – September 23, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (September 23, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312241224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312241223
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #730,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Lorrie Moore made her debut in 1985 with Self-Help, which proved that she could write about sadness, sex, and the single girl with as much tenderness--and with considerably more wit--than almost any of her contemporaries. She followed this story collection with another, Like Life, as well as two fine novels, Anagrams and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Yet Moore's rapid-fire alternation of mirth and deep melancholy is so perfectly suited to the short form that readers will greet Birds of America with an audible sigh of relief--and delight. In "Willing," for example, a second-rate Hollywood starlet retreats into a first-rate depression, taking shelter in a Chicago-area Days Inn. The author's eye for the small comic detail is intact: her juice-bar-loving heroine initially drowns her sorrows in "places called I Love Juicy or Orange-U-Sweet." Yet Moore seldom satisfies herself with mere pop-cultural mockery. She's too interested in the small and large devastations of life, which her actress is experiencing in spades. "Walter leaned her against his parked car," Moore relates. "His mouth was slightly lopsided, paisley-shaped, his lips anneloid and full, and he kissed her hard. There was something numb and on hold in her. There were small dark pits of annihilation she discovered in her heart, in the loosening fist of it, and she threw herself into them, falling." Elsewhere, the author serves up a similar mixture of one-liners and contemporary grief, lamenting the death of a housecat in "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens" and the death of a marriage in "Which Is More Than I Can Say About That." And her hilarious account of a nuclear family undergoing a meltdown in "Charades" will make you want to avoid parlor games for the rest of your natural life. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Though the characters in these 12 stories are seen in such varied settings as Iowa, Ireland, Maryland, Louisiana and Italy, they are all afflicted with ennui, angst and aimlessness. They can't communicate or connect; they have no inner resources; they can't focus; they can't feel love. The beginning stories deal with women alienated from their own true natures but still living in the quotidian. Aileen in "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens," is unable to stop grieving over her dog's death, although she has a loving husband and daughter to console her. The collection's two male protagonists, a law professor in "Beautiful Grade" and a housepainter who lives with a blind man in "What You Want to Do Fine," are just as disaffected and lonely in domestic situations. The stories move on, however, to situations in which life itself is askew, where a tumor grows in a baby's body (the detached recitation of "People Like That Are The Only People Here" makes it even more harrowing ). In "Real Estate," a woman with cancer?after having dealt with squirrels, bats, geese, crows and a hippie intruder in her new house?kills a thief whose mind has run as amok as the cells in her body. Only a few stories conclude with tentative affirmation. "Terrific Mother," which begins with the tragedy of a child's death, moves to a redemptive ending. In every story, Moore empowers her characters with wit, allowing their thoughts and conversation to sparkle with wordplay, sarcastic banter and idioms used with startling originality. No matter how chaotic their lives, their minds still operate at quip speed; the emotional impact of their inner desolation is expressed in gallows humor. Moore's insights into the springs of human conduct, her ability to catch the moment that flips someone from eccentric to unmoored, endow her work with a heartbreaking resonance. Strange birds, these characters might be, but they are present everywhere. Editor, Victoria Wilson; agent, Melanie Jackson.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Lorrie Moore is the author of the story collections Like Life, Self-Help, and Birds of America, and the novels Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and Anagrams. She is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Customer Reviews

Moore is one of the best short story authors I have read.
Kelly L. Livesay
Ms. Moore has such a command of language, such a deep understanding of humanity, such a fierce sense of humor.
Mink
I don't need my books to contain happy endings but this one just didn't go anywhere.
SantamariaA

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By mehmet on November 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
I feel sorry for the occasional David Sedaris fan who ran out to buy this book just because he said so, and then felt the authority in him/herself to say the book lacked depth and humor. First of all, while David Sedaris writes great, FUNNY books, he is writing in an entirely different league that does not even begin to compare what Moore accomplishes with her writing.

So Lorrie Moore's sense of humor is not as instantly gratifying as Sedaris's - she doesn't write centered around mere punchlines. Instead, she creates characters that are multi layered and breathing with life, sometimes over the course of only a few pages or even paragraphs, and even the comical moments therein are often subtle and melancholic. The moments she describes are so brilliantly captured and the confusion of characters so charming and relatable, so human and at once heartbreaking - I never know whether to respond in laughter, or tears.

This book is honestly one of my most cherished treasures.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
Lorrie Moore's BIRDS OF AMERICA is a rarity: a story collection that arrives on the literary scene with such power that people still talk about it years after its original publication.
What's so special about Moore? For one, she writes with an unusual mix of wry humor and deeply-rooted emotion. Because the surface of her stories shimmer with laughs, the true meaning of the story can sneak up on readers, and when it hits, it does so with pure force. Her language is exact and unadorned, leading the reader precisely where Moore intends. Her ability to nail cultural and personal detail is extraordinary.
The most famous, and arguably the most successful, story is "People Like That Are The Only People Here," the moving yet at times absurdist tale of a mother coping with the grave illness of her baby. At first, Moore seems almost coy with her character names - the Mother, the Baby, the Husband, the Surgeon - but they serve to mute the roiling fear running underneath in true Moore fashion until it can no longer be contained.
Not a single story in this collection fails, but some rise above others: "Which is More Than I Can Say About Some People", "Charades," "Agnes of Iowa," and "Terrific Mother." Some of these stories will have you doubled over with laughter; others will make your heart ache. Most will do both.
I highly recommend this book, even to people who don't normally read short stories. If you have already read it, read it again. You'll be surprised by how much surfaces the second time around.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 3, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The best stories here are about talented, witty, sarcastic people (women mostly) who, lacking any hope or confidence, compromise their integrity to be in relationships with cliche-ridden mediocrities, bores, sociopaths, cheaters, phony ideologues, and other loathsome creatures. The result is a collection of stories that is both comic and sad. These characters seem rather nihilistic in their lack of free-will and the abyss of despair and acedia that they've succumbed to. Lorrie Moore is at the top of the literary food chain when it comes to writing these kind of short stories. There are imitators who try to be cool with their nihilistic, cynical stories, but Lorrie Moore is the genuine article.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Christine Allen-yazzie on March 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
Recently I spent a third long stay at a hospital with my daughter. Living at the hospital, particularly accompanying your child, is a surreal (at best) existence. I found myself thinking constantly of Moore's incredible rending yet somehow darkly humorous story, "People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk," wondering if anyone could possibly understand the dazed flurourescent-lit world of a pediatric hospital/cafeteria/series of Lego-like halls without having been forced to live it. The story brought me strange comfort, knowing that someone had glimpsed that life, the one where you're woken up constantly in the night and wonder whether it's night or day or if you'll ever get out of sweatpants, and as I waited to hear news regarding red blood cells, a part of me was falling apart for the mothers and children I saw there whose stay would not be nine or ten days, as ours, but months. If you know anyone who is stuck at the hospital for ridiculous amounts of time, this is the gift to bring them. The other stories are excellent too.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Brent Woods on March 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
I'm a fan of short fiction, but few collections prepared me for the emotional intensity of these stories. Each one left me with the feeling I had just read an 800 page novel - the depth of each story and character is remarkable. In particular the final story, Terrific Mother, with it's skillful balance of hope and dispair, comedy and tragedy left me wondering why Moore is not better known here in England.
This is a perfect collection for those who may not enjoy short stories and a revelation to those of us who do. This is my first introduction to Lorrie Moore and I will be quickly buying up her earlier work.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Meeks on December 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
It's Christmastime and my own book of short stories, "The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea" debuted just last Friday, December 16th, on Amazon, and I was trying to describe to someone what my work is like. It's hard to describe your own work, but that's what brought me here, to find how Moore is described. I greatly admire Lorrie Moore, for her humor, for her style, and for her bravery to explore purely sad and horrible moments with such incredible insight and, often, light. Hence, before moving on, I thought I'd write a love letter to her work.

"Birds of America" is filled with a variety of women ("birds," as they say in England) who are unique. Included in the volume are a dancer, a real estate agent, an actress, an English teacher, and more, and they all become vivid and archetypical--never stereotypical. In Moore's stories, you laugh and you gasp. For instance, in "People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk" a mother learns her baby has cancer, and in her plunging worry and despair in visits to the pediatrics oncology wing, the mother's insight often comes tinged with humor. "`I've never heard of a baby having chemo,' the Mother says. `Baby' and `chemo,' she thinks, should never even appear in the same sentence together, let alone the same life."

A similar high-wire act occurs in "Terrific Mother," about a 35-year-old woman who sits on picnic bench holding her friend's baby, and the bench gives way and the baby is accidentally killed. Both friends' lives change inextricably.
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