One Story Magazine recently listed their top ten favorite short stories, along with an additional twenty-six stories to flush out the “long list.” Lorrie Moore’s Dance in America made the top ten. In my quest to read each of these stories, I was bound to encounter a few I don't like. This is the second story to fall in that category. When I first started reading Dance in America, I realized I already knew this short story. I had listened to it last summer on the New Yorker fiction Podcast and had not really loved the story. So I dialed in the podcast again and read the text while listening to Louise Erdrich read the story along with me. The story begins:
I tell them dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom.
The female narrator says this as though she believes in the importance of dance, though she also suggests she does not really believe it. She is an unreliable narrator, recently separated from her partner, seemingly lost. Now, I like lost souls, and I have no problem with unreliable narrators, (see my Denis Johnson review) but I had trouble putting myself in this narrator’s skin.
In the story, the narrator pays a visit to an old college friend who is married with a 7-year-old son who suffers from cystic fibrosis. She is in town to teach dance at the local schools. The depictions of her old friend Cal, his wife, and the friend’s young son Eugene, were vivid and entertaining. Cal lives in a dilapidated house where the pots and pans have to be retrieved from the attic where they are used to catch rain water as it comes through the roof.
During dinner, she reveals that she has broken up with Patrick, who she had been with for a long time, and it is suggested that Patrick left her because she is selfish. They have an entertaining conversation about love and death. After dinner, she dances with the sickly Eugene to a Kenny Loggins tune. The boy asks her to wave to him the next day when she walks by his classroom at school.
“Sure, I say, not knowing that, in a rush, I will forget, and that I’ll be on the plane home already, leafing through some inane airline magazine, before I remember that I forgot to do it.”
The story’s final page has her dancing with Eugene through the living room to a Kenny Loggins song.
“I am not, Patrick, thinking only of myself, my lost troupe, my empty bed. I am thinking of the dancing body’s magnificent and ostentatious scorn.”
Lorrie Moore is known for her blending of comic elements with tough issues. While I enjoyed the scene around the table with the narrator and Cal’s family, I did not feel the rhythm in this story. But I’ve never been a graceful dancer. Maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of dance, or maybe because I’m not a Kenny Loggins fan, but this story did not carry me away.
Have you read it? Are you a fan of the story? If so, I’d love to hear what you enjoyed about it. What connected you?