Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Short Story Wednesday: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore


I have recently read several stories from Birds of America by Lorrie Moore. Initially I had a hard time getting into the stories in this book. Some of them were very difficult to read and relate to. I read the first five, was mostly confused, enjoyed a couple of them, then took a break.

When I came back to the book, I skipped two stories that had some relationship to Christmas ("Charades" and "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens") and read the next two stories. I liked both of them. How did that happen? Did I just get used to her style? I think all of the stories I have read have elements of sadness and deal with relationships, but these two I really liked.

"Beautiful Grade" 

Bill is taking his 24-year-old girlfriend to a New Year's Eve party. Bill is about 50 and he is very conscious that his friends are talking about the age difference in his newish relationship. He is a college professor and she was his student when they first got together. Now that she is not his student he can be more open about it. 

This quote describes the people at the party: 

There is Albert, with his videos; Albert's old friend Brigitte, a Berlin-born political scientist; Stanley Mix, off every other semester to fly to Japan and study the zoological effects of radiation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Stanley's wife, Roberta, a travel agent and obsessive tabulator of Stanley's frequent flyer miles (Bill has often admired her posters: STEP BACK IN TIME, COME TO ARGENTINA says the one on her door); Lina, a pretty visiting Serb teaching in Slavic Studies; and Lina's doctor husband, Jack, a Texan who five years ago in Yugoslavia put Dallas dirt under the laboring Lina's hospital bed so that his son could be "born on Texan soil." ("But the boy is a total sairb" Lina says of her son, rolling her lovely r's. "Just don't tell Jack.")

The party is at Albert's; he has just successfully divorced his third wife. He serves a meal; they talk, and all the while Bill is thinking about these people, dinner parties from the past, his attraction to Lina, his insecurities. 

My favorite part: at midnight, they all have a spoonful of black-eyed peas as the first thing they eat on January 1st. This is a southern tradition to ensure good luck year. 

"What You Want to Do Fine"

This story had a lot of humor, and I enjoyed that. Two gay men set off on a road trip, from Indiana all the way to New Orleans. Their backgrounds are very different. Mack paints houses; Quilty is blind with a seeing eye dog and has a legal practice. On the trip they visit a lot of cemeteries and play Trivial Pursuit at the motel. They eat hush puppies and catfish when they get into the deep south. They argue about petty subjects and try to figure out if they should stay together. 

Favorite quote: "He may have been blind and a recovering drinker, but with the help of his secretary, Martha, he had worked up a decent legal practice and did not give his services away for free. Good barter, however, he liked. It made life easier for a blind man. He was, after all, a practical person. Beneath all his eccentricities, he possessed a streak of pragmatism so sharp and deep that others mistook it for sanity."


Jerry House said...

No offense to Lorrie Moore, but it is "colly" birds, not "calling" birds --a perpetual mistake that somehow grates on y nerves. A colly bird is merely a black bird, like a raven a crow.

Kathy's Corner said...

Lorrie Moore's Birds of America is a book I have been hearing about for years but I have never read her short stories. I should try one out. I need to read more short stories in general.

Margot Kinberg said...

It's so interesting to me, Tracy, how a person can read some stories by an author and not like them, and then read other stories by the same author and really enjoy them. I think that's the thing about short stories. They allow the author to try different things; some of them a reader likes, and some not. I'm glad you enjoyed these.

TracyK said...

Jerry, Thanks for that interesting bit of information that I never knew.

I found an interesting post about it at the Library of Congress blog:


and an even better one here:


TracyK said...

Kathy, reading short stories still doesn't come easy to me, I would much rather settle into a novel. But I appreciate short stories much more now than I used to. There are a lot of short stories online, if you don't mind reading online.

TracyK said...

Margot, I was very surprised to like two of the stories in the book so much when I had rejected most of the earlier stories in the book so strongly. I think these stories were less sad and weird, or maybe it was my mood.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You might like her novel WHO WILL RUN THE FROG HOSPITAL? I think she has only written one other novel. Sometimes I think short stories fall somewhere between poems and novels. So many writers write those two genres. Including Raymond Carver.

TracyK said...

Patti, thanks for that suggestion. I did look into some of her novels today. I did not realize that she had written any. But nothing I saw today gave much idea of the novels, so a recommendation is useful.

Lark said...

Short story collections aren't really my thing. I usually only end up only liking one or two of the stories. So I probably won't be checking this one out.

TracyK said...

Lark, that is one of the negative things about collections of short stories. Often only a few are appealing. And it always surprises me when I read reviews and the reviewer loves the ones I didn't like, and vice versa. I have discovered that I like short stories from some genres more than others; I think science fiction stories are often good because they are more adventurous.

thecuecard said...

I too have put Lorrie Moore's short stories down in the past. Perhaps you became patient with her style. Hmm. She is widely heralded but so far I have not been able to delve into her books. Perhaps I will try again. I'm glad you found some to like in the book.

TracyK said...

Susan, I like how you put that... I "became patient with her style." I have noticed that when I return to an author, whether it is short stories or novels, I sometimes find the author easier to read because I know what to expect. Now I am less reluctant to read her stories.