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
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.