Lorrie Moore’s 1990 collection of short stories does not disappoint, plus you gotta love any book that starts with an epigraph from Zelda Fitzgerald, “It seemed very sad to see you going off in your new shoes alone.” Her eight stories are tight set pieces, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but maybe You’re Ugly, Too would be at the top: Zoë Hendricks, the American history professor with a possible cancerous lump in her abdomen, visits her sister in Manhattan and stands on the balcony with the man she’s being set up with, newly divorced. He steps on her jokes and tires of him circling back to the theme of Love. “Love? Hadn’t they done this already?” she muses to herself before launching into the story of her famous violinist friend who settles down with a local Indiana boy and then kills herself. It ends with her shoving him from behind, as if she’s going to knock him off the balcony to the street twenty floors below.
Joy was also solid, the story of Jane Konwicki, her cat Fluffy, and her job at a mall cheese shop as the assistant manager. Heffie, her manager, likes to stick her finger into the cheeses and lick it clean; eventually Heffie quits, they drink champagne and eat herring in cream sauce. “‘To our little lives,’ toasted Heffie. ‘On the prairie,’ added Jane… They sang a couple of Christmas carols they both knew, and sang them badly.”
Stagnating, deteriorating relationships. Divorcées struggling with the dating scene decades after they’d gracefully exited. Widows with teenage daughters (“Of course it did not matter what young people wore: they were already amazing looking, without really knowing it, which was also part of their beauty… The person who needed to be careful what she wore was me.”) Moore’s strength is her clear, powerful writing, flexed in this first book of short stories. The only story that seemed a bit untrimmed was Wings, the story of the punk rock singer who falls in with an elderly neighbor, cares for him and gets written into the will. Bizarro story was The Juniper Tree, where the narrator imagines that she gets to say a final farewell to her friend who died at the hospital. Debarking was my favorite of the lot, well-placed as the first story, following newly divorced Ira as he dates the gorgeous yet psychotic Zora.
Chastised at a party for not knowing who Lorrie Moore is, I immediately fled to the library for a copy of Birds of America. From the first word, Moore clutched my throat and drowned me with delirious, light, witty writing. I could have dog-eared nearly every page to demonstrate quality writing, but left the book unmarred. Lines like “I’m going to marry you till you puke” or ” ‘I think you should see someone,’ said Jack. ‘Are we talking about a psychiatrist or an affair?’ ”
Short stories, tightly packed. Birds and guns and inner turmoil.