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Issue 88 - The odd couple

Whisky Magazine Issue 88
June 2010


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The odd couple

Jefferson Chase looks at a well observed American tale.

Life is a cornfield,” American author Lorrie Moore once remarked, “but literature is that shot of whiskey that's been distilled down.” Moore herself, to continue the metaphor, is a small-batch distillery. She specialises in short stories and is anything but prolific, but what she does produce is always special and first-rate.

A good example of such is What You Want to Do Fine from Moore's 1998 bestselling collection Birds of America. It's the story of a couple, one of whom is blind and gay, while the other is sighted and unsure about his sexuality.

Mack has moved so much in his life that every phone number he comes across seems to him to be one he's had before. “I swear this used to be my number,” he says, putting the car into park and pointing at the guidebook: 923-7368. The built-in cadence of a phone number always hits him the same personal way: like something familiar but lost, something momentous yet insignificant — like an act of love with a girl he used to date.

That's a life story expertly concentrated down to a single moment. Mack (the unsure one) and his lover Quilty are journeying through the midwestern and southern United States on an extended “sight-seeing” holiday, ostensibly from their daily routine but actually, readers begin to suspect, from themselves. Along the way – for instance, while atop the St. Louis Arch – they engage in the sort of quirky, faintly morbid banter which is Moore's trademark.

“Describe the view to me,” says Qu...

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