Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

Birds of America: Stories (Vintage Contemporaries): Moore, Lorrie ...

(Book 123) As I was reading one of the stories in this collection, People Like That Are the Only People Here, I had a faint feeling of familiarity as I read, but it wasn’t until an emotional moment that seemed a bit shocking to me, that I finally remembered reading the story before. Our very first book was a collection of short stories chosen by David Sedaris and entitled Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules; it included this story by Lorrie Moore. When I joined our Zoom meeting tonight, the only two attendees already online were the same two who would have been around when we read the first book. I asked if they remembered reading one of the stories before and when both reported that they hadn’t recognized, I didn’t feel so bad.

Chris joined the meeting from her back yard and provided an urban sound track; while both Rosalie and Linda appeared from remote locations — their cabins in Michigan. Once everyone was on, all but Geri, who was unable to join us, agreed that the book was a great read. Chris asked if anyone had a favorite story. Rosalie answered first with the story I mentioned above, People Like That Are the Only People Here. She wondered if the author had had a similar medical experience because the characters seems so real. I had looked that up while reading and found that Moore does have an adopted child who experienced a major medical event and that when the story was first published, Moore received some blowback for her comments about the way certain things were handled at the hospital, as though she was directly criticizing the staff that delivered care to her child.

Chris said that her favorite was What You Want to Do Fine, saying she just loved those guys. I loved the bit when Quilty pretends to read from the brochure noting that Hemingway shot his subjects before writing about them. that it was “a not unheard of creative method.” But mostly, I was distracted by the comment that Vicksburg didn’t celebrate the 4th of July until 1971. I had to look it up, and the information I found indicated they started celebrating again after WWII but it was called the Carnival of the Confederacy. (Oh, and the answer to the question is the Rain is Tess and the Fire is Joe.)

Susan chose Which is More Than I Can Say About Some People, the story about the mother-daughter trip to Ireland. The daughter works writing questions for a standardized testing company and you have to love Moore’s: “Blank is to heartache as forest is to bench.” All of us agreed that the mother has some adorable moments culminating in the lovely conclusion when she blushes at her daughter’s toast having never before been courted. Susan was the only one among us who has indeed kissed the Blarney Stone and could confirm it is as hard to do as depicted in the story. I have to add the wonderful prose that came after the daughter’s turn to kiss the Blarney Stone: “Finally, these dares one made oneself commit didn’t change a thing. They were all a construction of wish and string and distance.”

Marcia listened to the book on Audible and found that she was so displeased with the reader’s voice that she felt all the stories were tragically alike. (I looked it up and those of us who listen to books may want to avoid those read by Natasha Soudek. ) Rosalie replied that she felt all the stories were so dissimilar that it was as if there was no unifying theme. Chris disagreed, saying that the stories all relate to the loneliness experienced in the random events of this life and the extent to which we are lucky enough to find some kind of anchor.

Melissa said that she liked Dance in America and I’m so glad she did because I have an opportunity to include the raccoon story! Describing Simone, the dancer/ narrator says: “There are people who talk with their hands. Then there are people who talk with their arms. Then there are people who talk with their arms over their heads. These are the ones I like best. Simone is one of those.” Knowing this makes it even more of a spectacle to hear Simone tell the raccoon story:

“The thing to remember about love affairs, says Simone is that they are all like having raccoons in your chimney. . . We have raccoons sometimes in our chimney, explains Simone. . . 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 all are like that.”

Karen talked about Charades and the way the couple could read each other after their many years of marriage. I said that my favorite might be Real Estate even though the married couple have so little relationship left. It is terribly sad, but the writing is beautiful:

“She would lie in Terrence’s arms and he would be quiet and his quietness would restore her. There was music. There was peace. That was all. There were no words in it. But that tiny spot — like any season, or moon, or theater set; like a cake in a rotary display — invariably spun out of reach and view, and the quarreling would resume and she would have to wait a long time for the cake to come around again.”

Linda agreed that the writing was lovely but it left you in a lonely place of life going on even if it wasn’t that great.

Someone (Chris?) asked about our thoughts on Beautiful Grade and we enjoyed the description of the OB/GYN’s job description as having something to do with “things dropping into the vagina!” We only briefly discussed Terrific Mother, the story with the most terrifying premise. And one that wasn’t discussed at all was Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens, which was one of my favorites for its depiction of cat grief:

“He had limited notes to communicate his needs, she said. He had his ‘food’ mew, and I’d follow him to his dish. He had his ‘out’ mew, and I’d follow him to the door. He had his ‘brush’ mew, and I’d go with him to the cupboard where his brush was kept. And then he had his existential mew, where I’d follow him vaguely around the house as he wandered in and out of rooms, not knowing exactly what or why.”

Then the conversation veered off track and the ensuing highlights were Susan modeling her ‘Stay the Fuck Home’ mask; Linda reporting that all of her work in the garden had really just established a food kitchen for the deer and bunnies; and Rosalie scaring us about her dinners made from five-year-old canned goods!

We talked about other books. Mary enjoyed Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture that Rosalie had recommended to her. Rosalie recommended The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

Our hostess, Melissa sat next to her hostess gift, the painting shown below, with her Birds of America placemats serving as her backdrop. She admitted that she had considered no menu at all. The woman who always has a complete environment established for us had considered no menu at all! We are all going to be so out of practice. Marcia is our designated host for next month and we have hopes that we will feel comfortable enough to meet in her lovely backyard on August 20 to discuss Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata.

One Reply to “Birds of America by Lorrie Moore”

  1. Loved this long journal as I sometimes miss hearing the conversations. For instance, I missed telling everyone that yes, indeed, I did kiss the Blarney Stone, but just once–I think on my second visit, when I was still young and relatively limber. In visits to Blarney after that, I’ve explored either the gift shop, where I once brought a stylish blazer, or the woods, where my good (now departed) friend Frank Walsh and I explored the woods, finding all sorts of ancient ruins. That was even more fun than the gift shop.

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