Lorrie Moore has a new novel - Gate at the Stairs (an excerpt is available online) - but I'm about number 19 on the waiting list at the library, so I decided in the meantime to read a collection of her short stories published in 1998. All but one of the stories appeared in earlier forms in various magazines, but they fit nicely together in Birds of America.
The stories feature sad and slightly broken people and their coping strategies for life. Moore's graceful language and ability to find humour amidst the mundane lifts her prose into the sublime. For example, in Agnes of Iowa, when a couple's romantic life becomes stagnant, they "struggled self-conciously for atmosphere" in their bedroom, where "frantic candlelight flickered on the ceiling like a puppet show."
In Community Life, Nick meets Olena at a library reference desk and invites her out for coffee. Nick orders espresso for them both. "She usually didn't like espresso, its gritty, cigarish taste. But there was in the air that kind of distortion that bent you a little; it caused your usual self to grow slippery, to wander off and shop, to get blurry, bleed, bevel with possibility. She drank the espresso fast, with determination and a sense of adventure. 'I guess I'll have a second,' she said, and wiped her mouth with a napkin."
There is something positively addictive about these stories.