Excerpt from Birds of America by Lorrie Moore, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Birds of America

by Lorrie Moore

Birds of America
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  • First Published:
    Sep 1998, 291 pages
    Sep 1999, 291 pages

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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.

Use of this excerpt from Birds of America may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 1998 by Lorrie Moore. All rights reserved.

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