A Book Review: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

Birds of AmericaThis collection is… powerful.

I don’t know that it’s necessarily one of my all-time favorites (a lot of the stories seemed quite similar which makes it a bit harder for individuals stories to stand out) but I am very glad that I read it. Moore writes with strength and beauty and humor about a multitude of difficult circumstances. Most of the characters in these stories are young/middle-aged women who find themselves confronted by hardship (sickness, death, infidelity, depression) and find ways to manage/survive/resign themselves to the difficulties that they face.

Below is a rating for each story in this collection and some brief, non-spoilery words about my favorites.

5 stars:

People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk – Oh man. This story. It is easily one of the best ten short stories I’ve ever read.  I find it hard to believe that I’m saying this about something that focuses on the diagnosis/treatment of an infant with kidney cancer, but this story is just wonderful. Her ability to convey a sense of complete rage and disbelief, without dredging up massive amounts of melodrama, is beyond impressive. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to write about something like this (apparently it’s strongly based on actual events from Moore’s life), but she does such a good job. This story alone makes this collection something worth reading/having.

4.5 stars:

Dance in America – My second favorite story in this collection. It’s short, but very moving. It also discusses the effects that a sick child can have on the adults that he comes in contact with. But it manages to avoid being overly depressive. It’s almost a little… cheerful? In a punch-you-in-the-stomach-every-once-in-a-while kind of way.

Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens – This seems like it would be a really good story for anyone who has ever lost a pet that they were particularly attached to. Even though they’re “just an animal”, losing your special buddy can alter your mood and shape your outlook on life in surprisingly dramatic ways.

Terrific Mother – Imagine that you’ve accidentally dropped and killed a baby that they you were forced to hold? How much might this tragedy shatter your whole person and change/influence everything that you feel? Is there a way to recover/move on from such an accident? It turns out that Moore does not shy away from even the darkest of topics.

4 stars:

Which is More Than I Can Say About Some People – A poignant examination about how parent:child relationships can change when the child finally sees their parent as a real, complicated person with their own problems and shortcomings.

And below are the stories that I didn’t like quite as much and don’t feel like writin’ about. I thought that these were all fine and well-written (with the exception of Beautiful Grade which I thought was just kinda boring); they just didn’t strongly resonate with me.

3.5 stars: Willing, Agnes of Iowa, What You Want to Do Fine, Real Estate

3 stars: Community Life, Charades

2.5 stars: Beautiful Grade

This is definitely a book worth checking out. Overall, based largely on the strength of People Like That Are the Only People Here, I’m gonna give this collection a rating of 4.5 stars.

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Miles run in 2014: 68.9
Books read in 2014: 15

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