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Birds of America: Stories Paperback – September 23, 1999

3.8 out of 5 stars 120 customer reviews

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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.
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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: 5.8 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,016,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback
Lorrie Moore's BIRDS OF AMERICA was a well-received collection of short stories that was published in 1998 after appearing in HARPER'S, THE NEW YORKER and THE PARIS REVIEW, among others. As a fan of short stories I have had this one on my shelf for some time, but I found myself a bit underwhelmed, especially compared with collections I recently read by Ellis, Roth and Updike. The collection begins with WILLING, an enjoyable yet ultimately sad story about an actress who leaves Hollywood for the simplicity of Chicago. It features my favorite line in the book "Don't mistake a lack of sophistication for sweetness." In WHICH IS MORE THAN I CAN SAY FOR SOME PEOPLE Abby takes her mother on a trip to Ireland, with a memorable stop at the Blarney Stone. In DANCE IN AMERICA a worldly dance teacher imposes on an old friend and his family. In WHAT YOU WANT TO DO IS FINE a gay couple takes a road trip along the Mississippi River to New Orleans; the catch, one of them is blind - the story peters out as the ducks return to the Peabody Hotel. My favorite story is PEOPLE LIKE THAT ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE HERE, which is about a couple whose infant enters a cancer ward and discovers the sense of shorthand and community that exists among the families. AGNES OF IOWA is about an unfulfilled English professor whose life is perked up by a visiting poet. There are indeed bird references in most of her stories, sometimes overtly, sometimes not, but the main characters all have certain avian characteristics. I have no trouble admitting that the stories are most likely smarter than I am - and may require multiple readings. It took me a couple of weeks reading in tandem with some non-fiction to finish, which means I perhaps missed the rhythm, but that's just one bird's opinion.
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