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
    Paperback:
    Sep 1999, 291 pages

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"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 . . .' "

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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