Birds of America

Birds of America reaffirmed my belief that Lorrie Moore has great abilities as an observer and describer of things, but less talent as a storyteller.

Every entry in this collection of short stories feel very much the same to me. Almost every one begins with a sad woman who only gets sadder as the story continues. The names change, but not by much; Agnes, Therese, everyone here sounds like a French nun. Classical music, relationships with mothers, castoff affairs ? even Moore's motifs are unwavering.

Relentless crushing sadness aside, I admire the way Moore writes. Birds of America finds her at her best when her sad, sad main characters are perceiving men. In “Community Life,” the man in question has “something animated in his eyes, like pond life” and runs his hand “through the various metals of his hair;” a coppery auburn now streaked with gray. Later, that same hair is stirred by a fan so it looks like “weeds in water.”

These one-liners seem almost offhanded, but together, they bathe this man in the light of one revered, of someone possessing an inner mystery and vitality for which the main character yearns. By contrast, the woman at the center of “Agnes of Iowa” doesn't much like her male foil, so he has “eyes as blue and scornful as mints” and a body “like old and expensive wood.” That Moore can make these women's differing opinions of their male opposites so clear with just a few words speaks to her talented economy with language. Her fragments of description reminded me of ice cubes clinking together in a listlessly stirred drink; small, bright things moving apart and coming together in a far more watery medium.

This is the second work of Moore's I have read (the first being A Gate At The Stairs). Given her alchemy with words, I'll happily keep reading her books ? but all the while, I'll be hoping she branches out a little.

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