Monday, June 9, 2014

Birds of America

I'm re-reading Birds of America, a book of short stories by Lorrie Moore, for book group, which meets later in June. It came out in 1998, and I guess I didn't read it then, but I'd read several of the stories when they first came out in magazines. I read the collection in May. And now I am reading it in June, following the Great Books shared inquiry discussion method advice of reading it twice before talking about it.

Each of these stories has a bird in it, or a reference to birds, or a bird image, or bird poop (as on the Blarney Stone in Ireland...which my parents visited; I will have to ask them about the angle of kissing, the lipstick marks, the bird poop). The bird might turn out to be a bat. Moore's current book is called Bark. Will there be dogs? Trees? Dogs peeing on trees? Must find out. At the library!*

I love Lorrie Moore's stories. I get her humor, her references. We know the same show tunes. She's hilarious and melancholy. I sympathize with her flawed, suffering, funny, smart, pathetic characters, and sometimes rather too closely identify with them. For example, Olena, a librarian of Transylvanian heritage, her name an anagram for "alone," in the story "Community Life."

*"When Olena was a little girl, she had called them lie-berries--a fibbing fruit, a story store--and now she had a job in one. She had originally wanted to teach English literature, but when she failed to warm to the graduate study of it, its french-fried theories--a vocabulary of arson!--she'd transferred to library school, where everyone was taught to take care of books, tenderly, as if they were dishes or dolls."

There's a vampire thing going on in the background of "Community Life," and this is subtly countered in the story that comes next, "Agnes of Iowa," in which a writing teacher advises a student to avoid the trendy vampire genre in her own creative writing. Olena in "Community Life" is pale and withdrawn and grows reclusive; her boyfriend, rationalizing his own bad behavior, accuses her of "sucking the blood of [the community]" instead of contributing to it. But she can see the falseness in people's cheerfulness and politics. Of course, any time she does try to be "normal" or human, or to contribute to the community, it is always devastating. You can see why she retreats.

The stories in Birds of America are all realistic. I read that Bark contains a ghost story. I guess Lorrie Moore is trying genre writing now. Edith Wharton did ghost stories. I like a good ghost story. A character named Mack, in Moore's story "What You Want To Do Fine," is horrified, as was I, to learn that John James Audubon shot the birds he painted. But I learned this from a Eudora Welty story. Geez, I learn a lot of things from fiction. And poetry.

"He shot them?" Mack kept asking. "He shot the damn birds?"

"Revolting," said Quilty loudly. "The poor birds. From now on, I'm going to give all my money to the Autobahn Society. Let's make those Mercedes go fast, fast, fast!'

That's characteristic Lorrie Moore humor and word play.

Saturday night I saw Fowl Plays, the 10-Minute Plays at Heartland Theatre Company. Each of those had a bird in it, too. What fun! And that makes it a Random Coinciday in the blog.

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