I was somewhere between being indefinitely alone, and finding someone, when a copy of Birds of America came along, actually two copies. I had just broken up with a girl I had no business breaking up with when I gave her my extra copy of Birds of America as a kind of bonus for letting me break up with her. I never read the book, and until last night, never read Lorrie Moore. There is no good reason why this gap in my reading history exists, but there it is.
There is an overwhelming power to the this first story in Birds of America, the much praised collection, and if you’re still reading this review at this point, and have not dismissed me completely, then hold on a second, and I’ll tell you why.
Sidra is a mildly famous actor, in the way say, Michelle Forbes is a mildly famous actor, and Sidra has decided to leave L.A. for the comfortable luxury of Chicago, and she feels better for it immediately. She becomes our hero and a lonely woman at the very moment we find out that she’s living in a run down motel, eating, sleeping and watching the outside world go by. Sidra is a chiseled creation, a woman without the burden of girlie things to hold her down. She speaks in sentences that erase from your mind that she really is, and she dates a man who is too stupid to realize she’s a famous actress, who, as she puts it, was nominated for a major award once.
Sidra goes from one end of the story to the other making the occasional call to the west coast to people who miss her, really miss her, or they’re sad she’s not there because they can’t exploit her. The man she dates named Walter seems like a kind of half remembered fiction, even to himself. He goes on a date with another woman while dating Sidra, but isn’t honest with her, and why should he be? She talks about willingness, to be willing to do something like debase herself as an actress to a group of strangers, she takes her clothes off in movies, and her own father avoids her when she comes to visit.
I don’t know if Moore is trying to tell us something powerful she’s found in being a woman, famous for something that seems cliché, or she wants to appear naïve in the development of her characters, and let them self realize on the page. This story moves everywhere and nowhere all at once, and what’s most apparent to the reader is Moore’s incredible assured voice, almost too smart for the coffin she’s fitted for Sidra. Like a girl who should be wearing better shoes, but falls back on a pair of Chuck Taylors.