Birds of America: Stories [NOOK Book]

Overview

A long-awaited collection of stories--twelve in all--by one of the most exciting writers at work today, the acclaimed author of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and Self-Help. Stories remarkable in their range, emotional force, and dark laughter, and in the sheer beauty and power of their language.
        From the opening story, "Willing"--about a second-rate movie actress in her thirties who has moved back to Chicago, where she makes a ...
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Birds of America: Stories

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Overview

A long-awaited collection of stories--twelve in all--by one of the most exciting writers at work today, the acclaimed author of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and Self-Help. Stories remarkable in their range, emotional force, and dark laughter, and in the sheer beauty and power of their language.
        From the opening story, "Willing"--about a second-rate movie actress in her thirties who has moved back to Chicago, where she makes a seedy motel room her home and becomes involved with a mechanic who has not the least idea of who she is as a human being--Birds of America unfolds a startlingly brilliant series of portraits of the unhinged, the lost, the unsettled of our America.
        In the story "Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People" ("There is nothing as complex in the world--no flower or stone--as a single hello from a human being"), a woman newly separated from her husband is on a long-planned trip through Ireland with her mother. When they set out on an expedition to kiss the Blarney Stone, the image of wisdom and success that her mother has always put forth slips away to reveal the panicky woman she really is.
        In "Charades," a family game at Christmas is transformed into a hilarious and insightful (and fundamentally upsetting) revelation of crumbling family ties.
        In "Community Life,"a shy, almost reclusive, librarian, Transylvania-born and Vermont-bred, moves in with her boyfriend, the local anarchist in a small university town, and all hell breaks loose. And in "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens," a woman who goes through the stages of grief as she mourns the death of her cat (Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Häagen Dazs, Rage) is seen by her friends as really mourning other issues: the impending death of her parents, the son she never had, Bosnia.
        In what may be her most stunning book yet, Lorrie Moore explores the personal and the universal, the idiosyncratic and the mundane, with all the wit, brio, and verve that have made her one of the best storytellers of our time.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Lorrie Moore, Story by Story

I interview people. I just interviewed author Lorrie Moore. A few years ago, I interviewed Emmylou Harris. In that interview, we went over the singer's new record song by song. For this interview I decided to go over Lorrie Moore's new book, Birds of America, story by story.

"Oh?" she says, after I explain. "That's very interesting. I feel stories are very close to songs. They have the same urgency and intensity."

Not only are Moore's stories urgent and intense, but they're peppered with great "zingers" -- terrific verbal bits; like a character who says, "Marriage is the film school of the 90s." Or the ones referred to as "cube steak yuppies." I figure Moore has overheard these quips in a restaurant or at a mall, but she tells me that these particular ones are inventions. "I just imagine the sensibility of a character and then imagine them saying something like that." She does confess that she walks around with a notebook. "That's what writers are suppose to do. Do you carry one?"

"Yes," I say. "But I believe if something is important I'll remember it."

"You can get suckered into thinking that," she says. "Sometimes things seem to be on fire in front of you and you're thinking, 'Ah! I'll never forget that.' But you will." Pause. "You always will."

Always? Moore gives that dour pronouncement with such finality that I'm quiet for a good long moment. Then I begin interviewing her about each of Birds of America's 12 cuts -- er, stories....

"Willing"

The book's opening story is about a second-rate movie star who flees Hollywood to hide out in a motel in Chicago. "Have you done Hollywood?" I ask Moore.

"Done Hollywood?" she says.

"Gone out there."

"No," she answers. "It's not like I usually write about actresses. I imagined my way into that bit of midwestern exile." Have you ever holed up in a strange city in a strange motel? "No," she laughs. "Oh no. No. No. I've never done something that depressed. But it was easy for me to imagine it."

Note about Lorrie Moore's laugh: She laughs a lot, and her laugh is delightful. It's neither a giggle nor cackle. And she's not laughing for my benefit. Her laugh seems the call of a woman who is truly amused by existence.

"Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People"

"Have you ever taken a trip with your mother?" I ask.

She gives that laugh. I asked what I asked because this story is about an American mother who forces her adult daughter to kiss the Blarney Stone. "I did go to Ireland," Moore tells me. "But I did not go with my mother." Did you kiss the stone? "I did. It was pretty much that awful." What did your mother think about the story? "Anytime your parents see a father or mother character, they get very nervous," she says. "Now, my mother knows she never went to Ireland with me and she knows it's fiction, but the story makes her nervous." Then she adds, "And I wouldn't know what to think if I had a child who was a writer."

"Dance in America," "Community Life," and "Beautiful Grade"

The first title is a very good, very short story only peripherally about the subject of the title. The next is about a Transylvanian-born librarian coping with life in America. The last concerns divorce and how "the young were sent to earth to amuse the old." For these tales, Moore and I talk shop on the mechanics of being a short story writer. I've always found short stories harder to get published than novels. I assume Moore gets every one of her stories placed immediately.

"Oh, God no," she says.

"Do you still get -- " I say...

"Rejections?" she says. "Sure. Sure." I don't believe her! Surely she's lying.... "Not everybody likes everything that you do," she insists. "Maybe John Updike never gets rejections. I don't know."

Okay. Maybe she's telling the truth.

"Agnes of Iowa"

"What color is your hair?" is my next question.

"What color is my hair?" she repeats.

"Have you ever dyed it red?" Ah. Now she knows that I am referring to the Iowa woman in the story who dyes her hair red during a trip to New York City -- "her bright, new, and terrible hair" (and Moore means "terrible" like "Ivan the Terrible").

Moore reveals that her hair is brown. We then talk about Manhattan. It turns out that we both lived in Little Italy during the mid-1980s. She doesn't realize that she was subletting across the street from John Gotti's social club. "You undoubtedly made numerous walk-on appearances on FBI surveillance footage," I tell her.

She laughs.

"Charades"

This is a Christmas story about adults playing charades with their aging parents, pantomiming such things as "arachnophobia" ("the whole concept, rather than working syllable by syllable"), as well as famous people such as Robert Oppenheimer (after the mother falls on the floor pantomiming an explosion, her son mistakenly thinks she's depicting "dizziness" for "Dizzy Gillespie"). "I write about Christmas too much," Moore says. "Christmas is a kind of a muse for me. I don't know why. During the holidays things occur to me. Maybe it's because of the upheaval of traveling and meeting with families." (Another of Moore's Yuletide musings, entitled "Chop Suey Xmas," will be collected in the upcoming book of essays We Are What We Ate: 24 Memories of Food.)

"Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens"

This story concerns a woman's holiday-season trips to a shrink in an attempt to come to grips with the death of her cat. So I tell Moore about what has just happened up at Times Square -- a scaffold collapsed, and tenants had to flee a residential hotel. Now the police won't let them back up into their rooms to retrieve their pets. A number of cats, gerbils, and fish have been locked up for six days now.

"That's so mean," Moore says.

"I've made this moral judgment," I tell her. "I think the cats should be rescued."

"But forget about the gerbils and fish -- I agree."

"I don't know what St. Francis would say."

"He might say 'include the gerbils,'" Moore states. "But I think he would draw the line at the fish."

"What You Want to Do Fine"

I mispronounce the title to Moore as, "What You Want to Do IsFine."

"This is why Harper changed it to 'Lucky Ducks,'" she says. "What can you do? You either accept these things or yank your story. I told them the title of the book was going to be Birds of America."

Lucky Ducks, Birds of America -- jeez.

"In that caption where they mention my forthcoming book, they did not mention the title," she says.

"Real Estate"

In this 35-page story, the word "Ha!" is repeated 1,140 times over two complete pages. "That must have been fun to write," I say.

"I have to say, this kind of thing worried my editor at Knopf," Moore says. "She told me, 'As my mother used to say, it's your dress. You're going to have to wear it.'"

"People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk"

This is a hospital drama about a "Father" and "Mother" and their seriously ill "Baby."

"Did you name the mother character the Mother to distance yourself from the events you were describing?" I ask.

"I think the idea was that in this horrible drama, there were roles. There was 'the Baby.' And 'the Mother.' And 'the Doctor,'" she says. "I began to use the roles as important in themselves. The names didn't matter."

She then reveals that this was the only story she wrote in 1996, the result of an overpowering experience with her own child.

"Terrific Mother"

Ha! (Only once....) Nothing like a little self-effacing irony. This story begins: "Although she had been around them her whole life, it was when she reached 35 that holding babies seemed to make her nervous...." Ally McBeal shouldn't read this story -- especially the part where the protagonist's boyfriend asks her to marry him: "I'm going to marry you whether you like it or not...I'm going to marry you till you puke." This 40-page story about their screwy honeymoon in Italy says as much about modern marriage as a full-length novel.

My final question is, "Do you consider yourself a short story writer or a novelist or both?"

"I am asked this a lot," Moore says. "You'd think I'd have a pat answer by now." She's silent a moment, then says, "Obviously I've written more short stories than novels. If you've written 35 short stories, you sort of feel like you're a short story writer, and if you've only written two novels you may be making grandiose claims for yourself by calling yourself a novelist. I would like to be both. I'm working on a novel now. I'm at the very beginning of it." Then she adds, "But, as I began to say, I'm a short story writer. It's not something I will ever leave entirely."

Now let me, the interviewer, ask you, the reader, a question: Any of you FBI agents? If so, check the surveillance tapes you made of John Gotti back in the '80s. Look for the female pedestrian who keeps passing on the street holding a cube of laundry wrapped in brown paper from her favorite Russian laundry on Mulberry Street. Spot her? Good. That woman is Lorrie Moore. She's the best short story writer practicing her craft in America today, and Birds of America is her crowning achievement.

—David Bowman

James McManus
It will stand by itself as one of our funniest, most telling anatomies of human love and vulnerability. . .Fluid, cracked, mordant, colloquial, Moore's sentences hold, even startle, us. . .Birds of America, while often light-hearted and steadily hilarious, is a sublimely dark book. . . .her most potent work so far.
New York Times Book Review
Julian Barnes
Her depth of focus has increased, and with it her emotional seriousness. I hestiate to lay the adjective wise on one of her age. But watching a writer move into full maturity is always exciting. Flappy-winged take-off is fun; but the sign of an artist soaring lifts the heart.
New York Review of Books
Michiko Kakutani
At once sad, funny, lyrical and prickly, Birds of America attests to the deepening emotional chiaroscuro of her wise and beguiling work.
New York Times
Mirabella
In Birds of AmericaMoore achieves an altogether new level of grace.
San Francisco Chronicle
One could be trapped in an elevator with people like Moore's [and] feel the luckier for it.
Dave Eggers
The dust jacket of the hardcover Birds of America, while well-designed, is printed on uncoated paper, without a protective finish to ward off smudges, fingerprints, etc. So just carrying the book around for one day will leave it looking weathered, beaten, defeated, frumpy. Which is apt, given that Lorrie Moore's characters are exactly that: weathered, beaten, defeated, frumpy.

Moore's stories are about these things:

  • Longing
  • Suffering
  • People mistakenly dropping babies on their head in such a way that the baby dies
  • Depression, or at least life's way of sort of stalling at middle age
  • Depression, or at least life's way of sort of stalling during that period just before middle age
  • Depression, or at least life's way of stalling at any age at all, really
  • Marriages and affairs that are hopeless but serviceable, like a scratchy, Army-issue blanket
  • Creature comforts in the face of unfaceable pathos
  • Lives that would warrant suicide if the owner could find the inspiration
  • Friends who make you laugh
  • Easy puns
  • At least one person per story with cancer
  • Perhaps a child with cancer, too

Still, though, it's important to remember that Moore, while fascinated almost exclusively with broken people, is among the very funniest writers alive. She is known for this, and other writers are known for this, too, I guess, but there is perhaps no other writer who balances the two so precariously, so perfectly. She is God to her characters' Job, throwing at them every conceivable calamity or handicap. In exchange, they get the great lines. For instance, the middle-aged gay man (who is also blind) in "What You Want to Do Fine," burdened by thoughts of war -- this is set just before the Gulf War -- and mortality, goes on a road trip with his middle-aged, formerly straight-and-married lover, Mack, and nevertheless ends up attending an AIDS memorial and again and again driving through cemeteries. As a reward, at the St. Louis Arch, Moore allows them this exchange:

"Describe the view to me," says Quilty when they get out at the top. Mack looks out through the windows. "Adequate," he says.

Before this, Moore has done the following: First there was Self-Help (short stories, all sad, all funny); then there was Anagrams (a novel, despairing, hopeless, hilarious); then Like Life (more stories, largely interchangeable with those in Self Help, small slices of unassuming tragicomedy). Then came a second novel, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? a coming-of-age story about two young girls, which was, like all of her work, carefully and often gorgeously written, but also sort of soft, and perhaps too wistful, and maybe not so rich in detail. It was not so funny. And it was not so mean.

But she is both funny and mean in Birds of America, her new collection of stories, 12 of them, and this is good. Here the extremes are more extreme. Here the wit is more savage and the compassion more breathtaking. And here the formal experiments are more daring, and more successful. In "Real Estate," a woman reflects on her husband's various mistresses:

Of course, it had always been the spring that she discovered her husband's affairs. But the last one was years ago, and what did she care about all that now? There had been a parade of flings -- in the end, they'd made her laugh: Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

It goes on like that for two pages. Just the "Ha!"s, for two pages. The passage rounds out with this: "The key to marriage, she concluded, was just not to take the thing too personally."

Resigned, heartbreaking, all that. Even so, while Moore's characters are beaten and weathered, cuckolded and tired, even while, by the way, the woman who has accepted her husband's philandering also has cancer, these stories are, to the last, nothing if not affirming, nothing if not joyful. How?

That's unclear. But know this: That she achieves this balance again and again -- while stretching her wings stylistically and broadening her palette in this, far and away, her best book -- is itself affirming. And joyous. -- Salon

New Yorker
Moore peers into America's loneliest perches, but her delicate touch turns absurdity into a warming vitality.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though the characters in these 12 stories are seen in such varied settings as Iowa, Ireland, Maryland, Louisiana and Italy, they are all afflicted with ennui, angst and aimlessness. They can't communicate or connect; they have no inner resources; they can't focus; they can't feel love. The beginning stories deal with women alienated from their own true natures but still living in the quotidian. Aileen in 'Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens,' is unable to stop grieving over her pet's death, although she has a loving husband and daughter to console her. The collection's two male protagonists, a law professor in 'Beautiful Grade' and a housepainter who lives with a blind man in 'What You Want To Do Fine,' are just as disaffected and lonely in domestic situations. The stories move on, however, to situations in which life itself is askew, where a tumor grows in a baby's body (the detached recitation of 'People Like That Are The Only People Here' makes it even more harrowing ). In 'Real Estate,' a woman with cancer -- after having dealt with squirrels, bats, geese, crows and a hippie intruder in her new house -- kills a thief whose mind has run as amok as the cells in her body. Only a few stories conclude with tentative affirmation. 'Terrific Mother,' which begins with the tragedy of a child's death, moves to a redemptive ending. In every story, Moore empowers her characters with wit, allowing their thoughts and conversation to sparkle with wordplay, sarcastic banter and idioms used with startling originality. No matter how chaotic their lives, their minds still operate at quip speed; the emotional impact of their inner desolation is expressed in gallows humor. Moore's insights into the springs of human conduct, her ability to catch the moment that flips someone from eccentric to unmoored, endow her work with a heartbreaking resonance. Strange birds, these characters might be, but they are present everywhere. (PW best book of 1998)
Library Journal
Moore has written remarkably varied stories about sadness, crisis, and death. A dysfunctional family plays charades. A woman mourns the death of her cat. Bill traces his melancholy back to the death of his favored sister. A straight man tries a gay relationship while contemplating the kidnap of his son. Particularly difficult and poignant are the stories about the deaths of children. The stories are well written, remarkable in their clarity, full of gut-wrenching description and dialog. Some have lighter moments, but this is not enough to save the book from being dark and depressing. There is only so much misery a reader can endure. Let's hope this artist's "blue period" is brief. Recommended in small doses. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/98.]--Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Watch Hill
People Magazine
...[M]akes up stories about people who seem real and weirdly important....Even more important are the vivid images of things we thought we already knew....Moore can show you these daily wonders -- and more.
Julian Barnes
Her depth of focus has increased, and with it her emotional seriousness. I hestiate to lay the adjective wise on one of her age. But watching a writer move into full maturity is always exciting. Flappy-winged take-off is fun; but the sign of an artist soaring lifts the heart. -- The New York Review of Books
Jeff Giles
[A] fiercely funny book about great and tiny jolts to the heart, about the push and pull of relationships. . .Moore is already regarded as one of her generation's wittiest and shrewdest writers. Her lovely sentences, goofy puns and wisecracks stick in the brain like song lyrics. . .Her life is hers. Her work, thank heavens, is ours. -- Newsweek
Michiko Kakutani
At once sad, funny, lyrical and prickly, Birds of America attests to the deepening emotional chiaroscuro of her wise and beguiling work. -- The New York Times
R.Z. Sheppard
The bemused and angry women in Birds defiantly quip their way through trouble. . . . .if publishing goes flat, [Moore] can always get a booking in Vegas. -- Time Magazine
James McManus
It will stand by itself as one of our funniest, most telling anatomies of human love and vulnerability. . .Fluid, cracked, mordant, colloquial, Moore's sentences hold, even startle, us. . .Birds of America, while often light-hearted and steadily hilarious, is a sublimely dark book. . . .her most potent work so far. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
A fine new collection of 12 stories notable for their verbal wit and range of intellectual reference—the third such from the highly praised author of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and Like Life. Moore's most typical characters are women in retreat from disappointing relationships or in search of someone or thing to relieve their solitude. One example is the eponymous protagonist of 'Agnes of Iowa,' an unhappily married night-school teacher whose longing 'to be a citizen of the globe!' is not assuaged by her brief encounter with a visiting South African poet. Another is the 'minor movie star' of 'Willing,' whose involvement with an auto mechanic can't repair the unbridgeable distance she's put between herself and other people. Or, in a practically perfect little story (neatly titled 'Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens'), there's the housewife who mourns her dead cat, is chastened by her husband's understandable exasperation, yet is still gripped by 'the mystery of interspecies love.' Moore writes knowingly about family members who tiptoe warily around the edges of loving one another ('Charades'), who discover vulnerability where they had previously seen only dispassionate strength ('Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People'), or who learn to live, say, with the possibility of a baby dying ('People Like That Are the Only People Here').

Though her characters are likeably tough-minded and funny (who wouldn't want to cry 'Fire!' in a crowded theater where Forrest Gump is playing?), they invariably manifest a feeling that life is passing too quickly and that we haven't made all the necessary arrangements. Accordingly, her hip, jokey mode is lessaffecting than her wistful, how-the-hell-did-I-end-up-here tone. In Moore's skillful hands, a new homeowner pestered by squirrels in the attic and a modest woman subjected to a pelvic exam by a roomful of medical students are altogether credible contemporary Cassandras and Medeas. She's an original, and she's getting better with every book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307816887
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/7/2012
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 291
  • Sales rank: 92,423
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Lorrie Moore
Lorrie Moore is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories, and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She is the author of two novels and two previous short story collections.
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Read an Excerpt

It's fitting that Christmas should degenerate to this, its barest bones. The family has begun to seem to Therese like a pack of thespians anyway; everyone arrives, performs for one another, catches early flights out, to Logan or O'Hare. Probably it's appropriate that a party game should literally appear and insert itself in the guise of a holiday tradition (which it isn't). Usually, no one in Therese's family expresses much genuine feeling anyway; everyone aims instead--though gamely!--for enactments.

       Each year now, the stage is a new one--their aging parents, in their restless old age, buying and selling town houses, moving steadily southward from Maine. The real estate is Therese's mother's idea. Since he's retired, Therese's father has focused more on bird feeders; he is learning how to build them. "Who knows what he'll do next?" Her mother sighs. "He'll probably start carving designs into the side of the house."

       This year, they are in Bethesda, Maryland, near where Andrew, Therese's brother, lives. Andrew works as an electrical engineer and is married to a sweet, pretty, part-time private detective named Pam. Pam is pixie-haired and smiley. Who would ever suspect her of discreetly gathering confidences and facts for one's adversaries? She freezes hams. She makes Jell-O salad days in advance. She and Andrew are the parents of a one-and-a-half-year-old named Winnie, who already reads.

       Reads the reading videos on TV, but reads.

       Everyone has divided into teams, four and four, and written the names of famous people, songs, films, plays, books on scraps of wrapping paper torn off the gifts hours earlier. It is another few hours until Therese and her husband Ray's flight, at 4:30, from National Airport. "Yes," says Therese, "I guess we'll have to forgo the 'Averell Harriman: Statesman for All Seasons' exhibit."

       "I don't know why you couldn't catch a later flight," says Therese's sister, Ann. She is scowling. Ann is the youngest, and ten years younger than Therese, who is the oldest, but lately Ann's voice has taken up a prissy and matronly scolding that startles Therese. "Four-thirty," says Ann, pursing her lips and propping her feet up on the chair next to her. "That's a little ridiculous. You're missing dinner." Her shoes are pointy and Victorian-looking. They are green suede--a cross between a courtesan's and Peter Pan's.

       The teams are divided in such a way that Therese and Ray and her parents are on one team, Andrew and Pam, Ann and Tad, Ann's fiancé, on the other. Tad is slender and red-haired, a marketing rep for Neutrogena. He and Ann have just become engaged. After nearly a decade of casting about in love and work, Ann is now going to law school and planning her summer wedding. Since Therese worked for years as a public defender and is currently, through a fluky political appointment, a county circuit court judge, she has assumed that Ann's decision to be a lawyer is a kind of sororal affirmation, that it will somehow mean the two of them will have new things in common, that Ann will have questions for her, observations, forensic things to say. But this seems not to be so. Ann appears instead to be preoccupied with trying to hire bands and caterers, and to rent a large room in a restaurant. "Ugh," said Therese sympathetically. "Doesn't it make you want to elope?" Therese and Ray were married at the courthouse, with the file clerks as witnesses.

Ann shrugged. "I'm trying to figure out how to get everybody from the church to the restaurant in a way that won't wrinkle their outfits and spoil the pictures."

       "Really?" asked Therese. "You are?"

       The titles are put in two big salad bowls, each team receiving the other's bowl of titles. Therese's father goes first. "All right! Everyone ready!" He has always been witty, competitive, tense; games have usually brought out the best and worst in him. These days, however, he seems anxious and elderly. There is a pain in his eyes, something sad and unfocused that sometimes stabs at them--the fear of a misspent life, or an uncertainty as to where he's left the keys. He signals that his assigned name is a famous person. No one could remember how to signal that and so the family has invented one: a quick pompous posture, hands on hips, chin in air. Mustering up a sense of drama, Therese's father does this well.

       "Famous person!" Everyone shouts it, though of course there is someone who shouts "Idiot" to be witty. This time, it is Therese's mother.

       "Idiot!" she shouts. "Village idiot!"

       But Therese's father has continued signaling the syllables, ignoring his wife, slapping the fingers of his right hand hard on his left sleeve. The famous person has three names. He is doing the first name, first syllable. He takes out a dollar bill and points to it.
      
       "George Washington," shouts Ray.

       "George Washington Carver!" shouts Therese. Therese's father shakes his head angrily, turning the dollar around and pointing at it violently. It bothers him not to be able to control the discourse.

       "Dollar bill," says Therese's mother.

       "Bill!" says Therese. At this, her father begins nodding and pointing at her psychotically. Yes, yes, yes. Now he makes stretching motions with his hands. "Bill, Billy, William," says Therese, and her father points wildly at her again. "William," she says. "William Kennedy Smith."

       "Yes!" shouts her father, clapping his hands and throwing his head back as if to praise the ceiling.

       "William Kennedy Smith?" Ann is scowling again. "How did you get that from just William?"

       "He's been in the news." Therese shrugs. She does not know how to explain Ann's sourness. Perhaps it has something to do with Ann's struggles in law school, or with Therese's being a circuit court judge, or with the diamond on Ann's finger, which is so huge that it seems, to Therese, unkind to wear it around their mother's, which is, when one gets right down to it, a chip. Earlier this morning, Ann told Therese that she is going to take Tad's name, as well. "You're going to call yourself Tad?" Therese asked, but Ann was not amused. Ann's sense of humor was never that flexible, though she used to like a good sight gag.

       Ann officiously explained the name change: "Because I believe a family is like a team, and everyone on the team should have the same name, like a color. I believe a spouse should be a team player."

Therese no longer has any idea who Ann is. She liked her better when Ann was eight, with her blue pencil case, and a strange, loping run that came from having one leg a quarter of an inch longer than the other. Ann was more attractive as a child. She was awkward and inquiring. She was cute. Or so she seemed to Therese, who was mostly in high school and college, slightly depressed and studying too much, destroying her already-bad eyes, so that now she wore glasses so thick her eyes swam in a cloudy way behind them. This morning, when she'd stood listening to Ann talk about team players, Therese had smiled and nodded, but she felt preached at, as if she were a messy, wayward hippie. She wanted to grab her sister, throw herself upon her, embrace her, shut her up. She tried to understand Ann's dark and worried nuptial words, but instead she found herself recalling the pratfalls she used to perform for Ann--Therese could take a fall straight on the face--in order to make Ann laugh.

       Ann's voice was going on now. "When you sit too long, the bodices bunch up. . . ."

       Therese mentally measured the length of her body in front of her and wondered if she could do it. Of course she could. Of course. But would she? And then suddenly, she knew she would. She let her hip twist and fell straight forward, her arm at an angle, her mouth in a whoop. She had learned to do this in drama club when she was fifteen. She hadn't been pretty, and it was a means of getting the boys' attention. She landed with a thud.

       "You still do that?" asked Ann with incredulity and disgust. "You're a judge and you still do that?"

       "Sort of," said Therese from the floor. She felt around for her glasses.

       Now it is the team player herself standing up to give clues to her team. She looks at the name on her scrap of paper and makes a slight face. "I need a consultation," she says in a vaguely repelled way that perhaps she imagines is sophisticated. She takes the scrap of wrapping paper over to Therese's team. "What is this?" Ann asks. There in Ray's handwriting is a misspelled Arachnophobia.

       "It's a movie," says Ray apologetically. "Did I spell it wrong?"

       "I think you did, honey," says Therese, leaning in to look at it. "You got some of the o's and a's mixed up." Ray is dyslexic. When the roofing business slows in the winter months, instead of staying in with a book, or going to psychotherapy, he drives to cheap matinees of bad movies--"flicks," he calls them, or "cliffs" when he's making fun of himself. Ray misspells everything. Is it input or imput? Is it averse, adverse, or adversed? Stock or stalk? Carrot or karate? His roofing business has a reputation for being reasonable, but a bit slipshod and second-rate. Nonetheless, Therese thinks he is great. He is never condescending. He cooks infinite dishes with chicken. He is ardent and capable and claims almost every night in his husbandly way to find Therese the sexiest woman he's ever known. Therese likes that. She is also having an affair with a young assistant DA in the prosecutor's office, but it is a limited thing--like taking her gloves off, clapping her hands, and putting the gloves back on again. It is quiet and undiscoverable. It is nothing, except that it is sex with a man who is not dyslexic, and once in a while, Jesus Christ, she needs that.

       Ann is acting out Arachnophobia, the whole concept, rather than working syllable by syllable. She stares into her fiancé's eyes, wiggling her fingers about and then jumping away in a fright, but Tad doesn't get it, though he does look a little alarmed. Ann waves her Christmas-manicured nails at him more furiously. One of the nails has a little Santa Claus painted on it. Ann's black hair is cut severely in sharp, expensive lines, and her long, drapey clothes hang from her shoulders, as if still on a hanger. She looks starved and rich and enraged. Everything seems struggled toward and forced, a little cartoonish, like the green shoes, which may be why her fiancé suddenly shouts out, "Little Miss Muffett!" Ann turns now instead to Andrew, motioning at him encouragingly, as if to punish Tad. The awkward lope of her childhood has taken on a chiropracticed slink. Therese turns back toward her own team, toward her father, who is still muttering something about William Kennedy Smith. "A woman shouldn't be in a bar at three o'clock in the morning, that's all there is to it."

       "Dad, that's ludicrous," whispers Therese, not wanting to interrupt the game. "Bars are open to everyone. Public Accommodations Law."

       "I'm not talking about the cold legalities," he says chastisingly. He has never liked lawyers, and is baffled by his daughters. "I'm talking about a long-understood moral code." Her father is of that Victorian sensibility that deep down respects prostitutes more than it does women in general.

       " 'Long-understood moral code'?" Therese looks at him gently. "Dad, you're seventy-five years old. Things change."

       "Arachnophobia!" Andrew shouts, and he and Ann rush together and do high fives. Therese's father makes a quick little spitting sound, then crosses his legs and looks the other way. Therese looks over at her mother and her mother is smiling at her conspiratorially, behind Therese's father's back, making little donkey ears with her fingers, her sign for when she thinks he's being a jackass. "All right, forget the William Kennedy Smith. Doll, your turn," says Therese's father to her mother. Therese's mother gets up slowly but bends gleefully to pick up the scrap of paper. She looks at it, walks to the center of the room, and shoves the paper scrap in her pocket. She faces the other team and makes the sign for a famous person.

       "Wrong team, Mom," says Therese, and her mother says "Oops," and turns around. She repeats the famous person stance.

       "Famous person," says Ray encouragingly. Therese's mother nods. She pauses for a bit to think. Then she spins around, throws her arms up into the air, collapses forward onto the floor, then backward, hitting her head on the stereo.

       "Marjorie, what are you doing?" asks Therese's father. Her mother is lying there on the floor, laughing.

       "Are you okay?" Therese asks. Her mother nods, still laughing quietly.

       "Fall," says Ray. "Dizziness. Dizzy Gillespie."

       Therese's mother shakes her head.

       "Epilepsy," says Therese.

       "Explode," says her father, and her mother nods. "Explosion. Bomb. Robert Oppenheimer!"

       "That's it." Her mother sighs. She has a little trouble getting back up. She is seventy and her knees are jammed with arthritis.

       "You need help, Mom?" Therese asks.

       "Yeah, Mom, you need help?" asks Ann, who has risen and walked toward the center of the room, to take charge.

       "I'm okay." Therese's mother sighs, with a quiet, slightly faked giggle, and walks stiffly back to her seat.

       "That was great, Ma," says Therese.

       Her mother smiles proudly. "Well, thank you!"

       After that, there are many rounds, and every time Therese's mother gets anything like Dom De Luise or Tom Jones, she does her bomb imitation again, whipping herself into a spastic frenzy and falling, then rising stiffly again to great applause. Pam brings Winnie in from her nap and everyone oohs and aahs at the child's sweet sleep-streaked face. "There she is," coos Aunt Therese. "You want to come see Grandma be a bomb?"

       "It's your turn," says Andrew impatiently.

       "Mine?" asks Therese.

       "I think that's right," says her father.

       She gets up, digs into the bowl, unfolds the scrap of wrapping paper. It says "Jekylls Street." "I need a consultation here. Andrew, I think this is your writing."

       "Okay," he says, rising, and together they step into the foyer.

       "Is this a TV show?" whispers Therese. "I don't watch much TV."

       "No," says Andrew with a vague smile.

       "What is it?"

       He shifts his weight, reluctant to tell her. Perhaps it is because he is married to a detective. Or, more likely, it is because he himself works with Top Secret documents from the Defense Department; he was recently promoted from the just plain Secret ones. As an engineer, he consults, reviews, approves. His eyes are suppressed, annoyed. "It's the name of a street two blocks from here." There's a surly and defensive curve to his mouth.

       "But that's not the title of anything famous."

       "It's a place. I thought we could do names of places."

       "It's not a famous place."

       "So?"

       "I mean, we all could write down the names of streets in our neighborhoods, near where we work, a road we walked down once on the way to a store--"

       "You're the one who said we could do places."

       "I did? Well, all right, then, what did I say was the sign for a place? We don't have a sign for places."

       "I don't know. You figure it out," he says. A saucy rage is all over him now. Is this from childhood? Is this from hair loss? Once, she and Andrew were close. But now, as with Ann, she has no idea who he is anymore. She has only a theory: an electrical engineer worked over years ago by high school guidance counselors paid by the Pentagon to recruit, train, and militarize all the boys with high math SAT scores. "From M.I.T. to MIA," Andrew once put it himself. "A military-industrial asshole." But she can't find that satirical place in him anymore. Last year, at least, they had joked about their upbringing. "I scarcely remember Dad reading to us," she'd said.

       "Sure he read to us," said Andrew. "You don't remember him reading to us? You don't remember him reading to us silently from the Wall Street Journal?"

       Now she scans his hardening face for a joke, a glimmer, a bit of love. Andrew and Ann have seemed close, and Therese feels a bit wistful, wondering when and how that happened. She is a little jealous. The only expression she can get from Andrew is a derisive one. He is a traffic cop. She is the speeding flower child.

       Don't you know I'm a judge? she wants to ask. A judge via a fluke political appointment, sure. A judge with a reputation around the courthouse for light sentencing, true. A judge who is having an affair that mildly tarnishes her character--okay. A softy; an easy touch: but a judge nonetheless.

       Instead, she says, "Do you mind if I just pick another one?"

       "Fine by me," he says, and strides brusquely back into the living room.

       Oh, well, Therese thinks. It is her new mantra. It usually calms her better than ohm, which she also tries. Ohm is where the heart is. Ohm is not here. Oh, well. Oh, well. When she was first practicing law, to combat her courtroom stage fright, she would chant to herself, Everybody loves me. Everybody loves me, and when that didn't work, she'd switch to Kill! Kill! Kill!

       "We're doing another one," announces Andrew, and Therese picks another one. A book and a movie. She opens her palms, prayerlike for a book. She cranks one hand in the air for a movie. She pulls on her ear and points at a lamp. "Sounds like light," Ray says. His expression is open and helpful. "Bite, kite, dite, fight, night--"

       Therese signals yes, that's it.

       "Night," repeats Ray.

       "Tender Is the Night," says her mother.

       "Yes!" says Therese, and bends to kiss her mother on the cheek. Her mother smiles exuberantly, her face in a kind of burst; she loves affection, is hungry and grateful for it. When she was younger, she was a frustrated, mean mother, and so she is pleased when her children act as if they don't remember.

       It is Andrew's turn. He stands before his own team, staring at the red scrap in his hand. He ponders it, shakes his head, then looks back toward Therese. "This must be yours," he says with a smirk that maybe is a good-natured smirk. Is there such a thing? Therese hopes.

       "You need a consultation?" She gets up to look at the writing; it reads, "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top." "Yup, that's mine," she says.

       "Come here," he says, and the two of them go back down the corridor toward the foyer again. This time, Therese notices the photographs her parents have hung there. Photographs of their children, of weddings and Winnie, though all the ones of Therese seem to her to be aggressively unflattering, advertising an asymmetry in her expression, or the magnified haziness of her eyes, her hair in a dry, peppery frizz. Vanity surges in her: surely there must have been better pictures! The ones of Andrew, of Ann, of Tad, of Pam and Winnie are sunlit, posed, wholesome, pretty. But the ones of Therese seem slightly disturbed, as if her parents were convinced she is insane.

       "We'll stand here by the demented-looking pictures of me," says Therese.

       "Ann sent her those," says Andrew.

       "Really?" says Therese.

       He studies her hair. "Didn't your hair used to be a different color? I don't remember it ever being quite that color. What is that color?"

       "Why, whatever do you mean?"

       "Look," he says, getting back to the game. "I've never heard of this," and he waves the scrap of paper as if it were a gum wrapper.

       "You haven't? It's a song: 'Geese and chicks and ducks better scurry, when I take you out in the surrey . . .' "

       "No."

       "No?" She keeps going. She looks up at him romantically, yearningly. " 'When I take you out in my surrey, when I take you out in my surrey with the fringe on--' "

       "No," Andrew interrupts emphatically.

       "Hmm. Well, don't worry. Everyone on your team will know it."

       The righteous indignation is returning to his face. "If I don't know it, what makes you think they'll know it?" Perhaps this is because of his work, the technosecrecy of it. He knows; they don't.

       "They'll know it," Therese says. "I guarantee." She turns to leave.

       "Whoa, whoa, whoa," says Andrew. The gray-pink of rage is back in his skin. What has he become? She hasn't a clue. He is successfully top secret. He is classified information. "I'm not doing this," he says. "I refuse."

       Therese stares at him. This is the assertiveness he can't exercise on the job. Perhaps here, where he is no longer a cog-though-a-prized cog, he can insist on certain things. The Cold War is over, she wants to say. But what has replaced it is this: children who have turned on one another, now that the gods--or were they only guards?--have fled. "Okay, fine," she says. "I'll make up another."

       "We're doing another one," announces Andrew triumphantly as they go back into the living room. He waves the paper scrap. "Have any of you ever even heard of a song called 'The Surrey with the Fringe on Top'?"

       "Sure," says Pam, looking at him in a puzzled way. No doubt he seems different to her around the holidays.

       "You have?" He seems a bit flummoxed. He looks at Ann. "Have you?" Ann looks reluctant to break ranks with him but says, quietly, "Yeah."

       "Tad, how about you?" he asks.

       Tad has been napping off and on, his head thrown back against the sofa, but now he jerks awake. "Uh, yeah," he says.

       "Tad's not feeling that well," says Ann.

       In desperation, Andrew turns toward the other team. "And you all know it, too?" "I don't know it," says Ray. He is the only one. He doesn't know a show tune from a chauffeur. In a way, that's what Therese likes about him.

       Andrew sits back down, refusing to admit defeat. "Ray didn't know it," he says. Therese can't think of a song, so she writes "Clarence Thomas" and hands the slip back to Andrew. As he ponders his options, Therese's mother gets up and comes back holding Dixie cups and a bottle of cranberry drink. "Who would like some cranberry juice?" she says, and starts pouring. She hands the cups out carefully to everyone. "We don't have the wineglasses unpacked, so we'll have to make do."

       "We'll have to make do" is one of their mother's favorite expressions, acquired during the Depression and made indelible during the war. When they were little, Therese and Andrew used to look at each other and say, "We'll have to make do-do," but when Therese glances over at Andrew now, nothing registers. He has forgotten. He is thinking only of the charade.

       Ray sips his a little sloppily, and a drop spills on the chair. Therese hands him a napkin and he dabs at the upholstery with it, but it is Ann who is swiftly up, out to the kitchen, and back with a cold, wet cloth, wiping at Ray's chair in a kind of rebuke.

       "Oh, don't worry," her mother is saying.

       "I think I've got it," says Ann solemnly.

       "I'm doing my clues now," says Andrew impatiently. Therese looks over at Winnie, who, calm and observant in her mother's arms, a pink incontinent Buddha who knows all her letters, seems like the sanest person in the room.

       Andrew is making a sweeping gesture with his arm, something meant to include everyone in the room.

       "People," says Tad.

       "Family," says Pam.

       Ann has come back from the kitchen and sits down on the sofa. "Us," she says. Andrew smiles and nods.

       "Us. Thom-us," says Ann. "Clarence Thomas."

       "Yes," says Andrew with a clap. "What was the time on that?"

       "Thirty seconds," says Tad.

       "Well, I guess he's on the tip of everyone's tongue," says Therese's mother.

       "I guess so," says Therese.

       "It was interesting to see all those black people from Yale," says Therese's mother. "All sitting there in the Senate caucus room. I'll bet their parents were proud."

       Ann did not get into Yale. "What I don't like," she says, "is all these black people who don't like whites. They're so hostile. I see it all the time in law school. Most white people are more than willing to sit down, be friendly and integrated. But it's the blacks who are too angry."

       "Imagine that," says Ray.

       "Yes. Imagine," says Therese. "Why would they be angry? You know what else I don't like? I don't like all these gay men who have gotten just a little too somber and butch. You know what I mean? They're so funereal and upset these days! Where is the mincing and high-spiritedness of yesteryear? Where is the gayness in gay? It's all so confusing and inconvenient! You can't tell who's who without a goddamn Playbill!" She stands up and looks at Ray. It is time to go. She has lost her judicial temperament hours ago. She fears she is going to do another pratfall, only this time she will break something. Already she sees herself carted out on a stretcher, taken toward the airport, and toward home, saying the final words she has to say to her family, has always had to say to her family. Sounds like could cry.

       "Good-bye!"

       "Good-bye!"

       "Good-bye!"

       "Good-bye!"

       "Good-bye!"

       "Good-bye!"

       "Good-bye!"

       But first Ray must do his charade, which is Confucius. "Okay. I'm ready," he says, and begins to wander around the living room in a wild-eyed daze, looking as confused as possible, groping at the bookcases, placing his palm to his brow. And in that moment, Therese thinks how good-looking he is and how kind and strong and how she loves nobody else in the world even half as much.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Willing 5
Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People 26
Dance in America 47
Community Life 58
Agnes of Iowa 78
Charades 96
Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens 111
Beautiful Grade 122
What You Want to Do Fine 143
Real Estate 177
People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk 212
Terrific Mother 251
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First Chapter


Chapter One

WILLING

How can I live my life without committing an
act with a giant scissors?
--JOYCE CAROL OATES,
"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 wasn't 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, especially 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.

    "I know," he said. "I know."

    And so she left Hollywood. Phoned her agent and apologized. Went home to Chicago, rented a room by the week at the Days Inn, drank sherry, and grew a little plump. She let her life get dull--dull, but with Hostess cakes. There were moments bristling with deadness, when she looked out at her life and went "What?" Or worse, feeling interrupted and tired, "Wha--?" It had taken on the shape of a terrible mistake. She hadn't been given the proper tools to make a real life with, she decided, that was it. She'd been given a can of gravy and a hairbrush and told, "There you go." She'd stood there for years, blinking and befuddled, brushing the can with the brush.

    Still, she was a minor movie star, once nominated for a major award. Mail came to her indirectly. A notice. A bill. A Thanksgiving card. But there was never a party, a dinner, an opening, an iced tea. One of the problems with people in Chicago, she remembered, was that they were never lonely at the same time. Their sadnesses occurred in isolation, lurched and spazzed, sent them spinning fizzily back into empty, padded corners, disconnected and alone.

    She watched cable and ordered in a lot from a pizza place. A life of obscurity and radical calm. She rented a piano and practiced scales. She invested in the stock market. She wrote down her dreams in the morning to locate clues as to what to trade. Disney, her dreams said once. St. Jude's Medical. She made a little extra money. She got obsessed. The words cash cow nestled in the side of her mouth like a cud. She tried to be original--not a good thing with stocks--and she began to lose. When a stock went down, she bought more of it, to catch it on the way back up. She got confused. She took to staring out the window at Lake Michigan, the rippled slate of it like a blackboard gone bad.

    "Sidra, what are you doing there?" shrieked her friend Tommy long distance over the phone. "Where are you? You're living in some state that borders on North Dakota!" He was a screenwriter in Santa Monica and once, a long time ago and depressed on Ecstasy, they had slept together. He was gay, but they had liked each other very much.

    "Maybe I'll get married," she said. She didn't mind Chicago. She thought of it as a cross between London and Queens, with a dash of Cleveland.

    "Oh, please," he shrieked again. "What are you really doing?"

    "Listening to seashore and self-esteem tapes," she said. She blew air into the mouth of the phone.

    "Sounds like dust on the needle," he said. "Maybe you should get the squawking crickets tape. Have you heard the squawking crickets tape?"

    "I got a bad perm today," she said. "When I was only halfway through with the rod part, the building the salon's in had a blackout. There were men drilling out front who'd struck a cable."

    "How awful for you," he said. She could hear him tap his fingers. He had made himself the make-believe author of a make-believe book of essays called One Man's Opinion, and when he was bored or inspired, he quoted from it. "I was once in a rock band called Bad Perm," he said instead.

    "Get out." She laughed.

    His voice went hushed and worried. "What are you doing there?" he asked again.

Her room was a corner room where a piano was allowed. It was L-shaped, like a life veering off suddenly to become something else. It had a couch and two maple dressers and was never as neat as she might have wanted. She always had the DO NOT DISTURB sign on when the maids came by, and so things got a little out of hand. Wispy motes of dust and hair the size of small heads bumped around in the corners. Smudge began to darken the moldings and cloud the mirrors. The bathroom faucet dripped, and, too tired to phone anyone, she tied a string around the end of it, guiding the drip quietly into the drain, so it wouldn't bother her anymore. Her only plant, facing east in the window, hung over the popcorn popper and dried to a brown crunch. On the ledge, a jack-o'-lantern she had carved for Halloween had rotted, melted, froze, and now looked like a collapsed basketball--one she might have been saving for sentimental reasons, one from the big game! The man who brought her room service each morning--two poached eggs and a pot of coffee--reported her to the assistant manager, and she received a written warning slid under the door.

    On Fridays, she visited her parents in Elmhurst. It was still hard for her father to look her in the eyes. He was seventy now. Ten years ago, he had gone to the first movie she had ever been in, saw her remove her clothes and dive into a pool. The movie was rated PG, but he never went to another one. Her mother went to all of them and searched later for encouraging things to say. Even something small. She refused to lie. "I liked the way you said the line about leaving home, your eyes wide and your hands fussing with your dress buttons," she wrote. "That red dress was so becoming. You should wear bright colors!"

    "My father takes naps a lot when I visit," she said to Tommy.

    "Naps?"

    "I embarrass him. He thinks I'm a whore hippie. A hippie whore."

    "That's ridiculous. As I said in One Man's Opinion, you're the most sexually conservative person I know."

    "Yeah, well."

    Her mother always greeted her warmly, puddle-eyed. These days, she was reading thin paperback books by a man named Robert Valleys, a man who said that after observing all the suffering in the world--war, starvation, greed--he had discovered the cure: hugs.

    Hugs, hugs, hugs, hugs, hugs.

    Her mother believed him. She squeezed so long and hard that Sidra, like an infant or a lover, became lost in the feel and smell of her--her sweet, dry skin, the gray peach fuzz on her neck. "I'm so glad you left that den of iniquity," her mother said softly.

    But Sidra still got calls from the den. At night, sometimes, the director phoned from a phone booth, desiring to be forgiven as well as to direct. "I think of all the things you might be thinking, and I say, `Oh, Christ.' I mean, do you think the things I sometimes think you do?"

    "Of course," said Sidra. "Of course I think those things."

    "Of course! Of course is a term that has no place in this conversation!"

    When Tommy phoned, she often felt a pleasure so sudden and flooding, it startled her.

    "God, I'm so glad it's you!"

    "You have no right to abandon American filmmaking this way!" he would say affectionately, and she would laugh loudly, for minutes without stopping. She was starting to have two speeds: Coma and Hysteria. Two meals: breakfast and popcorn. Two friends: Charlotte Peveril and Tommy. She could hear the clink of his bourbon glass. "You are too gifted a person to be living in a state that borders on North Dakota."

    "Iowa."

    "Holy bejesus, it's worse than I thought. I'll bet they say that there. I'll bet they say `Bejesus.'"

    "I live downtown. They don't say that here."

    "Are you anywhere near Champaign-Urbana?"

    "No."

    "I went there once. I thought from its name that it would be a different kind of place. I kept saying to myself, `Champagne, urbah na, champagne, urbah na! Champagne! Urbana!'" He sighed. "It was just this thing in the middle of a field. I went to a Chinese restaurant there and ordered my entire dinner with extra MSG."

    "I'm in Chicago. It's not so bad."

    "Not so bad. There are no movie people there. Sidra, what about your acting talent?"

    "I have no acting talent."

    "Hello?"

    "You heard me."

    "I'm not sure. For a minute there, I thought maybe you had that dizziness thing again, that inner-ear imbalance."

    "Talent. I don't have talent. I have willingness. What talent?" As a kid, she had always told the raunchiest jokes. As an adult, she could rip open a bone and speak out of it. Simple, clear. There was never anything to stop her. Why was there never anything to stop her? "I can stretch out the neck of a sweater to point at a freckle on my shoulder. Anyone who didn't get enough attention in nursery school can do that. Talent is something else."

    "Excuse me, okay? I'm only a screenwriter. But someone's got you thinking you went from serious actress to aging bimbo. That's ridiculous. You just have to weather things a little out here. Besides. I think willing yourself to do a thing is brave, and the very essence of talent."

    Sidra looked at her hands, already chapped and honeycombed with bad weather, bad soap, bad life. She needed to listen to the crickets tape. "But I don't will myself," she said. "I'm just already willing."

She began to go to blues bars at night. Sometimes she called Charlotte Peveril, her one friend left from high school.

    "Siddy, how are you?" In Chicago, Sidra was thought of as a hillbilly name. But in L.A., people had thought it was beautiful and assumed she'd made it up.

    "I'm fine. Let's go get drunk and listen to music."

    Sometimes she just went by herself.

    "Don't I know you from the movies?" a man might ask at one of the breaks, smiling, leering in a twinkly way.

    "Maybe," she'd say, and he would look suddenly panicked and back away.

    One night, a handsome man in a poncho, a bad poncho--though was there such a thing as a good poncho? asked Charlotte--sat down next to her with an extra glass of beer. "You look like you should be in the movies," he said. Sidra nodded wearily. "But I don't go to the movies. So if you were in the movies, I would never have gotten to set my eyes on you."

    She turned her gaze from his poncho to her sherry, then back. Perhaps he had spent some time in Mexico or Peru. "What do you do?"

    "I'm an auto mechanic." He looked at her carefully. "My name's Walter. Walt." He pushed the second beer her way. "The drinks here are okay as long as you don't ask them to mix anything. Just don't ask them to mix anything!"

    She picked it up and took a sip. There was something about him she liked: something earthy beneath the act. In L.A., beneath the act you got nougat or Styrofoam. Or glass. Sidra's mouth was lined with sherry. Walt's lips shone with beer. "What's the last movie you saw?" she asked him.

    "The last movie I saw. Let's see." He was thinking, but she could tell he wasn't good at it. She watched with curiosity the folded-in mouth, the tilted head: at last, a guy who didn't go to the movies. His eyes rolled back like the casters on a clerk's chair, searching. "You know what I saw?"

    "No. What?" She was getting drunk.

    "It was this cartoon movie." Animation. She felt relieved. At least it wasn't one of those bad art films starring what's-her-name. "A man is asleep, having a dream about a beautiful little country full of little people." Walt sat back, looked around the room, as if that were all.

    "And?" She was going to have to push and pull with this guy.

    "`And?'" he repeated. He leaned forward again. "And one day the people realize that they are only creatures in this man's dream. Dream people! And if the man wakes up, they will no longer exist!"

    Now she hoped he wouldn't go on. She had changed her mind a little.

    "So they all get together at a town meeting and devise a plan," he continued. Perhaps the band would be back soon. "They will burst into the man's bedroom and bring him back to a padded, insulated room in the town--the town of his own dream--and there they will keep watch over him to make sure he stays asleep. And they do just that. Forever and ever, everyone guarding him carefully, but apprehensively, making sure he never wakes up." He smiled. "I forget what the name of it was."

    "And he never wakes up."

    "Nope." He grinned at her. She liked him. She could tell he could tell. He took a sip of his beer. He looked around the bar, then back at her. "Is this a great country or what?" he said.

    She smiled at him, with longing. "Where do you live," she asked, "and how do I get there?"

"I met a man," she told Tommy on the phone. "His name is Walter."

    "A forced relationship. You're in a state of stress--you're in a syndrome, I can tell. You're going to force this romance. What does he do?"

    "Something with cars." She sighed. "I want to sleep with someone. When I'm sleeping with someone, I'm less obsessed with the mail."

    "But perhaps you should just be alone, be by yourself for a while."

    "Like you've ever been alone," said Sidra. "I mean, have you ever been alone?"

    "I've been alone."

    "Yeah, and for how long?"

    "Hours," said Tommy. He sighed. "At least it felt like hours."

    "Right," she said, "so don't go lecturing me about inner resources."

    "Okay. So I sold the mineral rights to my body years ago, but, hey, at least I got good money for mine."

    "I got some money," said Sidra. "I got some."

Walter leaned her against his parked car. His mouth was slightly lopsided, paisley-shaped, his lips anneloid and full, and he kissed her hard. There was something numb and on hold in her. There were small dark pits of annihilation she discovered in her heart, in the loosening fist of it, and she threw herself into them, falling. She went home with him, slept with him. She told him who she was. A minor movie star once nominated for a major award. She told him she lived at the Days Inn. He had been there once, to the top, for a drink. But he did not seem to know her name.

    "Never thought I'd sleep with a movie star," he did say. "I suppose that's every man's dream." He laughed--lightly, nervously.

    "Just don't wake up," she said. Then she pulled the covers to her chin.

    "Or change the dream," he added seriously. "I mean, in the movie I saw, everything is fine until the sleeping guy begins to dream about something else. I don't think he wills it or anything; it just happens."

    "You didn't tell me about that part."

    "That's right," he said. "You see, the guy starts dreaming about flamingos and then all the little people turn into flamingos and fly away."

    "Really?" said Sidra.

    "I think it was flamingos. I'm not too expert with birds."

    "You're not?" She was trying to tease him, but it came out wrong, like a lizard with a little hat on.

    "To tell you the truth, I really don't think I ever saw a single movie you were in."

    "Good." She was drifting, indifferent, no longer paying attention.

    He hitched his arm behind his head, wrist to nape. His chest heaved up and down. "I think I may of heard of you, though."

    Django Reinhardt was on the radio. She listened, carefully. "Astonishing sounds came from that man's hands," Sidra murmured.

    Walter tried to kiss her, tried to get her attention back. He wasn't that interested in music, though at times he tried to be. "`Astonishing sounds'?" he said. "Like this?" He cupped his palms together, making little pops and suction noises.

    "Yeah," she murmured. But she was elsewhere, letting a dry wind sweep across the plain of her to sleep. "Like that."

He began to realize, soon, that she did not respect him. A bug could sense it. A doorknob could figure it out. She never quite took him seriously. She would talk about films and film directors, then look at him and say, "Oh, never mind." She was part of some other world. A world she no longer liked.

    And now she was somewhere else. Another world she no longer liked.

    But she was willing. Willing to give it a whirl. Once in a while, though she tried not to, she asked him about children, about having children, about turning kith to kin. How did he feel about all that? It seemed to her that if she were ever going to have a life of children and lawn mowers and grass clippings, it would be best to have it with someone who was not demeaned or trivialized by discussions of them. Did he like those big fertilized lawns? How about a nice rock garden? How did he feel deep down about those combination storm windows with the built-in screens?

    "Yeah, I like them all right," he said, and she would nod slyly and drink a little too much. She would try then not to think too strenuously about her whole life. She would try to live life one day at a time, like an alcoholic--drink, don't drink, drink. Perhaps she should take drugs.

    "I always thought someday I would have a little girl and name her after my grandmother." Sidra sighed, peered wistfully into her sherry.

    "What was your grandmother's name?"

    Sidra looked at his paisley mouth. "Grandma. Her name was Grandma." Walter laughed in a honking sort of way. "Oh, thank you," murmured Sidra. "Thank you for laughing."

    Walter had a subscription to AutoWeek. He flipped through it in bed. He also liked to read repair manuals for new cars, particularly the Toyotas. He knew a lot about control panels, light-up panels, side panels.

    "You're so obviously wrong for each other," said Charlotte over tapas at a tapas bar.

    "Hey, please," said Sidra. "I think my taste's a little subtler than that." The thing with tapas bars was that you just kept stuffing things into your mouth. "Obviously wrong is just the beginning. That's where I always begin. At obviously wrong." In theory, she liked the idea of mismatched couples, the wrangling and retangling, like a comedy by Shakespeare.

    "I can't imagine you with someone like him. He's just not special." Charlotte had met him only once. But she had heard of him from a girlfriend of hers. He had slept around, she'd said. "Into the pudding" is how she phrased it, and there were some boring stories. "Just don't let him humiliate you. Don't mistake a lack of sophistication for sweetness," she added.

    "I'm supposed to wait around for someone special, while every other girl in this town gets to have a life?"

    "I don't know, Sidra."

    It was true. Men could be with whomever they pleased. But women had to date better, kinder, richer, and bright, bright, bright, or else people got embarrassed. It suggested sexual things. "I'm a very average person," she said desperately, somehow detecting that Charlotte already knew that, knew the deep, dark, wildly obvious secret of that, and how it made Sidra slightly pathetic, unseemly--inferior, when you got right down to it. Charlotte studied Sidra's face, headlights caught in the stare of a deer. Guns don't kill people, thought Sidra fizzily. Deer kill people.

    "Maybe it's that we all used to envy you so much," Charlotte said a little bitterly. "You were so talented. You got all the lead parts in the plays. You were everyone's dream of what they wanted."

    Sidra poked around at the appetizer in front of her, gardening it like a patch of land. She was unequal to anyone's wistfulness. She had made too little of her life. Its loneliness shamed her like a crime. "Envy," said Sidra. "That's a lot like hate, isn't it." But Charlotte didn't say anything. Probably she wanted Sidra to change the subject. Sidra stuffed her mouth full of feta cheese and onions, and looked up. "Well, all I can say is, I'm glad to be back." A piece of feta dropped from her lips.

    Charlotte looked down at it and smiled. "I know what you mean," she said. She opened her mouth wide and let all the food inside fall out onto the table.

    Charlotte could be funny like that. Sidra had forgotten that about her.

Walter had found some of her old movies in the video-rental place. She had a key. She went over one night and discovered him asleep in front of Recluse with Roommate. It was about a woman named Rose who rarely went out, because when she did, she was afraid of people. They seemed like alien life-forms--soulless, joyless, speaking asyntactically. Rose quickly became loosened from reality. Walter had it freeze-framed at the funny part, where Rose phones the psych ward to have them come take her away, but they refuse. She lay down next to him and tried to sleep, too, but began to cry a little. He stirred. "What's wrong?" he asked.

    "Nothing. You fell asleep. Watching me."

    "I was tired," he said.

    "I guess so."

    "Let me kiss you. Let me find your panels." His eyes were closed. She could be anybody.

    "Did you like the beginning part of the movie?" This need in her was new. Frightening. It made her hair curl. When had she ever needed so much?

    "It was okay," he said.

* * *

"So what is this guy, a race-car driver?" asked Tommy.

    "No, he's a mechanic."

    "Ugh! Quit him like a music lesson!"

    "Like a music lesson? What is this, Similes from the Middle Class? One Man's Opinion?" She was irritated.

    "Sidra. This is not right! You need to go out with someone really smart for a change."

    "I've been out with smart. I've been out with someone who had two Ph.D.'s. We spent all of our time in bed with the light on, proofreading his vita." She sighed. "Every little thing he'd ever done, every little, little, little. I mean, have you ever seen a vita?"

    Tommy sighed, too. He had heard this story of Sidra's before. "Yes," he said. "I thought Patti LuPone was great."

    "Besides," she said. "Who says he's not smart?"

The Japanese cars were the most interesting. Though the Americans were getting sexier, trying to keep up with them. Those Japs!

    "Let's talk about my world," she said.

    "What world?"

    "Well, something I'm interested in. Something where there's something in it for me."

    "Okay." He turned and dimmed the lights, romantically. "Got a stock tip for you," he said.

    She was horrified, dispirited, interested.

    He told her the name of a company somebody at work invested in. AutVis.

    "What is it?"

    "I don't know. But some guy at work said buy this week. They're going to make some announcement. If I had money, I'd buy."

    She bought, the very next morning. A thousand shares. By the afternoon, the stock had plummeted 10 percent; by the following morning, 50. She watched the ticker tape go by on the bottom of the TV news channel. She had become the major stockholder. The major stockholder of a dying company! Soon they were going to be calling her, wearily, to ask what she wanted done with the forklift.

"You're a neater eater than I am," Walter said to her over dinner at the Palmer House.

    She looked at him darkly. "What the hell were you thinking of, recommending that stock?" she asked. "How could you be such an irresponsible idiot?" She saw it now, how their life would be together. She would yell; then he would yell. He would have an affair; then she would have an affair. And then they would be gone and gone, and they would live in that gone.

    "I got the name wrong," he said. "Sorry."

    "You what?"

    "It wasn't AutVis. It was AutDrive. I kept thinking it was vis for vision."

    "`Vis for vision,'" she repeated.

    "I'm not that good with names," confessed Walter. "I do better with concepts."

    "`Concepts,'" she repeated as well.

    The concept of anger. The concept of bills. The concept of flightless, dodo love.

    Outside, there was a watery gust from the direction of the lake. "Chicago," said Walter. "The Windy City. Is this the Windy City or what?" He looked at her hopefully, which made her despise him more.

    She shook her head. "I don't even know why we're together," she said. "I mean, why are we even together?"

    He looked at her hard. "I can't answer that for you," he yelled. He took two steps back, away from her. "You've got to answer that for yourself!" And he hailed his own cab, got in, and rode away.

    She walked back to the Days Inn alone. She played scales soundlessly, on the tops of the piano keys, her thin-jointed fingers lifting and falling quietly like the tines of a music box or the legs of a spider. When she tired, she turned on the television, moved through the channels, and discovered an old movie she'd been in, a love story--murder mystery called ITL[Finishing Touches]ITL. It was the kind of performance she had become, briefly, known for: a patched-together intimacy with the audience, half cartoon, half revelation; a cross between shyness and derision. She had not given a damn back then, sort of like now, only then it had been a style, a way of being, not a diagnosis or demise.

    Perhaps she should have a baby.

    In the morning, she went to visit her parents in Elmhurst. For winter, they had plastic-wrapped their home--the wondows, the doors--so that it looked like a piece of avant-garde art. "Saves on heating bills," they said.

    They had taken to discussing her in front of her. "It was a movie, Don. It was a movie about adventure. Nudity can be art."

    "That's not how I saw it! That's not how I saw it at all!" said her father, red-faced, leaving the room. Naptime.

    "How are you doing?" askec her mother, with what seemed like concern but was really an opening for something else. She had made tea.

    "I'm okay, really," said Sidra. Everything she said about herself now sounded like a lie. If she was bad it sounded like a lie; if she was fine--also a lie.

    Her mother fiddled with a spoon. "I was envious of you." Her mother sighed. "I was always so envious of you! My own daughter!" She was shrieking it, saying it softly at first and then shrieking. It was exactly like Sidra's childhood: just when she thought life has become simple again, her mother gave her a new portion of the world to organize.

    "I have to go," said Sidra. She had only just gotten there, but she wanted to go. She didn't want to visit her parents anymore. She didn't want to look at their lives.

    She went back to the Days Inn and phonmed Tommy. She and Tommy understood each other. "I ITL[get]ITL you," he used to say. His childhood had been full of sisters. He'd spent large portions of it drawing pictures of women in bathing suits--Miss Kenya from Nairobi!--and then asking one of the sisters to pick the most beautiful. If he disagreed, he asked another sister.

    The connection was bad, and suddenly she felt too tired. "Darling, are you okay?" he said faintly.

    "I'm okay."

    "I think I'm hard of hearing," he said.

    "I think I'm hard of talking," she said. "I'll phone you tomorrow."

    She phoned Walter instead. "I need to see you," she said. "Oh, really?" he said skeptically, and then added, with a sweetness he seemed to have plucked expertly from the air like a fly. "Is this a great country or what?"


She felt grateful to be with him again. "Let's never be apart," she whispered, rubbing his stomach. He had the physical inclinations of a dog: he liked stomach, ears, exited greetings.

    "Fine by me," he said.

    "Tomorrow, let's go out to dinner somewhere really expensive. My treat."

    "Uh," said Walter, "tomorrow's no good."

    "Oh."

    "How about Sunday?"

    "What's wrong with tomorrow?"

    "I've got. Well, I've gotta work and I'll be tired, first of all."

    "What's second of all?"

    "I'm getting together with this woman I know."

    "Oh?"

    "It's no big deal. It's nothing. It's not a date or anything."

    "Who is she?"

    "Someone whose car I fixed. Loose mountings in the exhaust system. She wants to get together and talk about it some more. She wants to know about catalytic converters. You know, women are afraid of getting taken advantage of."

    "Really!"

    "Yeah, well, so Sunday would be better."

    "Is she attractive?"

    Walter scrinched up his face and made a sound of unenthusiasm. "Enh," he said, and placed his hand laterally in the air, rotating it up and down a little.

    Before he left in the morning, she said, "Just don't sleep with her."

    "Sidra," he said, scolding her for lack of trust or for attempted supervision--she wasn't sure which.

    That night, he didn't come home. She phoned and phoned and then drank a six-pack and fell asleep. In the morning, she phoned again. Finally, at eleven o'clock, he answered.

    She hung up.

    At 11:30, her phone rang. "Hi," he said cheerfully. He was in a good mood.

    "So where were you all night?" asked Sidra. This was what she had become. She felt shorter and squatter and badly coiffed.

    There was some silence. "What do you mean?" he said cautiously.

    "You know what I mean."

    More silence. "Look, I didn't call this morning to get into a heavy conversation."

    "Well, then," said Sidra, "you certainly called the wrong number." She slammed down the phone.

    She spent the day trembling and sad. She felt like a cross between Anna Karenina and Amy Liverhaus, who used to shout from the fourth-grade cloakroom, "I just don't feel appreciated." She walked over to Marshall Field's to buy new makeup. "You're much more of a cream beige than an ivory," said the young woman working the cosmetics counter.

    But Sidra clutched at the ivory. "People are always telling me that," she said, "and it makes me very cross."

    She phoned him later that night and he was there. "We need to talk," she said.

    "I want my key back," he said.

    "Look. Can you just come over here so that we can talk?"

    He arrived bearing flowers--white roses and irises. They seemed wilted and ironic; she leaned them against the wall in a dry glass, no water.

    "All right, I admit it," he said. "I went out on a date. But I'm not saying I slept with her."

    She could feel, suddenly, the promiscuity in him. It was a heat, a creature, a tenant twin. "I already know you slept with her."

    "How can you know that?"

    "Get a life! What am I, an idiot?" She glared at him and tried not to cry. She hadn't loved him enough and he had sensed it. She hadn't really loved him at all, not really.

    But she had liked him a lot!

    So it still seemed unfair. A bone in her opened up, gleaming and pale, and she held it to the light and spoke from it. "I want to know one thing." She paused, not really for effect, but it had one. "Did you have oral sex?"

    He looked stunned. "What kind of question is that? I don't have to answer a question like that."

    "You don't have to answer a question like that. You don't have any rights here!" she began to yell. She was dehydrated. "You're the one who did this. Now I want the truth. I just want to know. Yes or no!"

    He threw his gloves across the room.

    "Yes or no," she said.

    He flung himself onto the couch, pounded the cushion with his fist, placed an arm up over his eyes. "Yes or no," she repeated.

    He breathed deeply into his shirtsleeve.

    "Yes or no."

    "Yes," he said.

    She sat down on the piano bench. Something dark and coagulated moved through her, up from the feet. Something light and breathing fled through her head, the house of her plastic-wrapped and burned down to tar. She heard him give a moan, and some fleeing hope in her, surrounded but alive on the roof, said perhaps he would beg her forgiveness. Promise to be a new man. She might find him attractive as a new, begging man. Though at some point, he would have to stop begging. He would just have to be normal. And then she would dislike him again.

    He stayed on the sofa, did not move to comfort or be comforted, and the darkness in her cleaned her out, hollowed her like acid or a wind.

    "I don't know what to do," she said, something palsied in her voice. She felt cheated of all the simple things--the radical calm of obscurity, of routine, of blah domestic bliss. "I don't want to go back to L.A.," she said. She began to stroke the tops of the piano keys, pushing against one and finding it broken--thudding and pitchless, shiny and mocking like an opened bone. She hated, hated her life. Perhaps she had always hated it.

    He sat up on the sofa, looked distraught and false--his face badly arranged. He should practice in a mirror, she thought. He did not know how to break up with a movie actress. It was boys' rules: don't break up with a movie actress. Not in Chicago. If she left him, he would be better able to explain it, to himself, in the future, to anyone who asked. His voice shifted into something meant to sound imploring. "I know" was what he said, in a tone approximating hope, faith, some charity or other. "I know you might not want to."

    "For your own good," he was saying. "Might be willing..." he was saying. But she was already turning into something else, a bird--a flamingo, a hawk, a flamingo-hawk--and was flying up and away, toward the filmy pane of the window, then back again, circling, meanly, with a squint.

    He began, suddenly, to cry--loudly at first, with lots of ohs, then tiredly, as if from a deep sleep, his face buried in the poncho he'd thrown over the couch arm, his body sinking into the plush of the cushions--a man held hostage by the anxious cast of his dream.

    "What can I do?" he asked.

    But his dream had now changed, and she was gone, gone out the window, gone, gone.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 10, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Spot On Stories

    Lorrie Moore is what people like to call a writer's writer. That doesn't mean you need to be a writer to admire her wit or intelligence; it just means that if you are, you'll be incredibly jealous. I took a bunch of writing classes where the teachers talked incessantly about separating the mood and tone. Moore's got that down pat. A story might be about a character whose husband is cheating on her (oh, and by the way she has cancer), but it's going to be a funny, dark story, not a sad sappy affair. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Moore's the kind of writer who can make you think that the darkness isn't so bad when you know that others have seen it too. Moore shows us our humanity as few contemporary writers can do.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2003

    one of the best books i've ever read - ever!

    packs so much into just a few words; amazing writing; i love it

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 23, 2010

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