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Authors: Lorrie Moore

Birds of America

Praise for Lorrie Moore’s

“A nest of tales that captures the eternal, hummingbird flutter of the human heart. … A volume in which everything comes together: the author’s mordant Dorothy Parker wit, the Joycean epiphanies, the Flannery O’Connor–esque moments of clarity and grace.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“These new stories sparkle; they are keenly and poignantly mindful of the idioms, banalities and canards of contemporary American society, and they hum with Moore’s earmark droll and incisive banter, her astonishing ability to render the intricacy of character in a few sharply focused details.”

Houston Chronicle

“Cements [Moore’s] reputation as one of our finest writers of fiction.”

Austin American-Statesman

“Lorrie Moore has made laughingstocks of all of us. And we’re devotedly, blissfully grateful. … Moore … packs more rambunctious American humor and worldly-wide melancholy into a story than many lesser writers can into an entire novel.”


“[Moore] uses language to create a kind of carbonated prose: sentences with pop and fizz, with an effervescence of imagination that continually surprises.”

The Dallas Morning News

“Bats, flamingos, crows, performing ducks and bird feeders crop up in every story, but the real subject is human nature and the myriad ways Moore’s characters flock together or fly apart in the face of change, stasis or grief. … Gorgeous. … Rarely has a writer achieved such consistency, humor and compassion.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“[Moore’s] dialogue snaps with fun. … One could be trapped in an elevator with people like Moore’s men, or especially her women, and feel the luckier for it.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Remains one of the … best volumes of stories that any American has published in recent decades.”


“I hesitate to lay the adjective wise on one of [Moore’s] age. But watching a writer move into full maturity is always exciting. Flappy-winged take-off is fun; but the sight of an artist soaring lifts the heart.”

—Julian Barnes,
The New York Review of Books

“Written beautifully, flawlessly, carefully, with a trademark gift for the darkly comic and the perfectly observed. … Thrilling.”

—Dave Eggers,

“Moore peers into America’s loneliest perches, but her delicate touch turns absurdity into a warming vitality.”

The New Yorker

“I’ve long been an admirer of Lorrie Moore; her
Birds of America
is an exquisite collection of stories by a writer at the peak of her form.”

—Geoff Dyer,
The Independent

“Moore is blessed with such astonishing, unbridled inventiveness she leaves the rest of us hamstrung mortals blinking in the dust. … Moore writes like a force of nature.”

The Seattle Times

“Memorable and absorbing.”

The Wall Street Journal

“These stories … are revelations of insight, the perception of the daily traumas of modern existence raised to ironic levels that tell us who we really are.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Moore is the quintessential short-story writer. There is not a word wasted—her every observation is burnished with humor and sadness.”

Marie Claire

“One of the most highly regarded collections of the 1990s.”

The Times Literary Supplement


Time Out New York

“Exquisite. … Come across these lines in the presence of another human being, and just try to resist reading them aloud.”

The San Diego Union-Tribune



“A fine collection. … The reader will be forever susceptible to seeing absurdity everywhere.”

Chicago Tribune

“The sleight of hand that goes on within a Lorrie Moore story is one of supreme subtlety and wit. … By turns laugh-out-loud funny and poignantly sad.”

Detroit Free Press

“One of the best short story collections of the ’90s.”


“Fierce, heart-wrenching. … One of the most remarkable short works published in recent decades, it’s unforgettable and great.”

Philadelphia Tribune

Birds of America
has the distinction of being one of the only flawless story collections from the twentieth century not written by John Updike.”

The Stranger

Lorrie Moore

Lorrie Moore is the author of the story collections
Self-Help, Like Life
, and
Birds of America
, and the novels
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, Anagrams
, and
A Gate at the Stairs
. Her work has appeared in
The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories
, and
Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards
. She is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.


Like Life
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?
A Gate at the Stairs


The Forgotten Helper


Copyright © 1998 by Lorrie Moore

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1998.

Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Contemporaries and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Eleven of these stories were originally published in slightly different form in the following:

“Agnes of Iowa”;
“What You Want to Do Fine” (originally titled “Lucky Ducks”);
The New York Times:
“Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens” (originally titled “If Only Bert Were Here”);
The New Yorker:
“Beautiful Grade,” “Charades,” “Community Life,” “Dance in America,” “People Like That Are the Only People Here,” “Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People,” and “Willing”;
The Paris Review:
“Terrific Mother.”

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.:
Excerpt from “Syrinx” from
A Silence Opens
by Amy Clampitt, copyright © 1993 by Amy Clampitt. Reprinted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.;
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.:
Excerpt from “The Meaning of Birds” from
Indistinguishable from the Darkness
by Charlie Smith, copyright © 1990 by Charlie Smith. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
Moore, Lorrie.
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore.—1st ed.
p. cm.
1. United States—Social life and customs—20th century—Fiction.
PS3565.O6225B57 1999

eISBN: 978-0-307-81688-7


This book is for my sister and for my parents
and for Benjamin


For their greatly appreciated and timely generosity I wish to thank the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the University of Wisconsin Graduate Research Committee, and the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission. I also wish to thank, as ever, Melanie Jackson and Victoria Wilson for their abiding patience and skill. My gratitude also goes to the various editors who saw some of these stories early (and into light): Pat Towers, George Plimpton, Mike Levitas, Barbara Jones, Bill Buford, and Alice Quinn.

 … it is not news that we live in a world

Where beauty is unexplainable

And suddenly ruined

And has its own routines. We are often far

From home in a dark town, and our griefs

Are difficult to translate into a language

Understood by others.

“The Meaning of Birds”

Is it

, is it really
jug jug

Is it
for that matter?—

Much less whether a bird’s call

Means anything in

Particular, or at all.



How can I live my life without committing an
act with a giant scissors?

“An Interior Monologue”

In her last picture, the camera had lingered at the hip, the naked hip, and even though it wasn’t her hip, she acquired a reputation for being willing.

“You have the body,” studio heads told her over lunch at Chasen’s.

She looked away. “Habeas corpus,” she said, not smiling.

“Pardon me?” A hip that knew Latin. Christ.

“Nothing,” she said. They smiled at her and dropped names. Scorsese, Brando. Work was all playtime to them, playtime with gel in their hair. At times, she felt bad that it
her hip. It should have been her hip. A mediocre picture, a picture queasy with pornography: these, she knew, eroticized the unavailable. The doctored and false. The stand-in. Unwittingly, she had participated. Let a hip come between. A false, unavailable, anonymous hip. She herself was true as a goddamn dairy product; available as lunch whenever.

But she was pushing forty.

She began to linger in juice bars. Sit for entire afternoons in
places called I Love Juicy or Orange-U-Sweet. She drank juice and, outside, smoked a cigarette now and then. She’d been taken seriously—once—she knew that. Projects were discussed: Nina. Portia. Mother Courage with makeup. Now her hands trembled too much, even drinking juice,
drinking juice, a Vantage wobbling between her fingers like a compass dial. She was sent scripts in which she was supposed to say lines she would never say, not wear clothes she would never not wear. She began to get obscene phone calls, and postcards signed, “Oh yeah, baby.” Her boyfriend, a director with a growing reputation for expensive flops, a man who twice a week glowered at her Fancy Sunburst guppy and told it to get a job, became a Catholic and went back to his wife.

“Just when we were working out the bumps and chops and rocks,” she said. Then she wept.

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