Monthly Archives: December 2014

Lorrie Moore, “Places to Look for Your Mind”


A young Englishman named John Spee comes to stay with Millie and Holt Keegan in New Jersey. 

(from Like Life)

How disappointing America must seem. To wander the streets of a city that was not yours, a city with its back turned, to be a boy from far away and step ashore here, one’s imagination suddenly so concrete and mistaken, how could that not break your heart?

My first encounter with Lorrie Moore was her collection Birds of America, and I found the stories dry, dull. Even the cover bored me. Looking back on it, I didn’t give it much of a chance, or I wasn’t ready for her yet. In the last few years, however, I’ve read Like Life and Self-Help and have come to realize why she’s so loved, why major presses continue to publish her story collections; she has more than earned her following and successes.

Moore does amazing stuff with POV, switching seamlessly between characters, and isn’t afraid to take risks with narrative (Throughout this story, for example, we get pieces of John Spee’s journal entry, “Crazy People I Have Met in America.”) She writes about such disparate characters–a woman obsessed with garbage, a jobless Englishman, an instructor of Religion at a community college–with ease and compassion.

John Spee’s visit to America doesn’t go well or last long, but you probably already knew that. I couldn’t find this one online, but you can pick up her collected stories or, better yet, buy her most recent collection, Bark.

Amelia Gray, “Thoughts While Strolling”

collegeport_clappWeird little observations about birds, roads, ribbons and people in a small Texas town.

(from Museum of the Weird)

A language is born: the manner in which the black silk ribbon is tied determines the personality of the girl who ties it. A half-hitch means she is searching for a kind gentleman to walk her to the market. A sheep-shank means she is a scurrilous woman who wishes to entrap a gentleman with kind words. A figure-of-eight means the time has come for sober discussions regarding the future. The children steal a black silk ribbon and tie it round a frog.

This collection of odd snippets is meant to be read as bits from a column in a small Texas newspaper. I doubt these are the real thoughts and columns of the “Harry Austin Clapp” alluded to in the italicized preface to this story (they read like Gray), but it’s worth noting that he was indeed a real person and columnist. The preface — faithfully lifted from this 1937 obit — features a phrase I like for its ability to summarize a hardship while deflecting morbid curiosity: “following an illness of several months.” Google says it’s not an uncommon phrase in certain types of obituaries. Read “Thoughts While Strolling” here.