May 4th, 2011 / 3:14 pm

“Dance in America” by Lorrie Moore

One of the first times I heard Kenny Loggins, I was probably pretty young. Top Gun came out in 1986, so I was probably six years old or so when I first heard “Highway to the Danger Zone.” My father stood in front of the television when they showed Goose dead in Maverick’s arms.

My mother had a cassette tape of Celebrate Me Home and a cassette tape of Loggins and Messina, both of which we all listened to in the car on the way to school.

Many people don’t know this about me, but when I was in 5th grade, I actually saw Loggins in concert. My family was visiting Chattanooga to look for houses, as we planned to move there within the next year, and we visited during the summer when the city has a festival called Riverbend. Loggins performed. I don’t remember much of it, sadly.

    “Dance in America” is my favorite Lorrie Moore story. I have several reasons as to why it is my favorite Lorrie Moore story. The first reason should be obvious: Kenny Loggins. This is the only short story I have ever read that features Kenny Loggins in some way.

    The second reason is because of ‘the raccoon story’ within “Dance in America.”

    “The thing to remember about love affairs,” says Simone, “is that they are all like having raccoons in your chimney.”

    “Oh, not the raccoon story,” groans Cal.

    “Yes! The raccoons!” cries Eugene.

    I’m sawing at my duck.

    “We have raccoons sometimes in our chimney,” explains Simone.

    “Hmmm,” I say, not surprised.

    “And once we tried to smoke them out. We lit a fire, knowing they were there, but we hoped that the smoke would cause them to scurry out the top and never come back. Instead, they caught on fire and came crashing down into our living room, all charred and in flames and running madly around until they dropped dead.” Simone swallows some wine. “Love affairs are like that,” she says. “They are like that.”

    Okay, so you have little context for reading the raccoon story. I’m sorry. I only quote it here because when I read it aloud to myself, I cannot stop laughing. I cannot really explain why I think this is funny; however, I think it has to do with the exaggerated comedy of it all in contrast to the situation developing between Cal and his wife Simone as the narrator, a former lover of Cal, visits. This situation, on top of the fact that the son, Eugene, has been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, is fairly tense.

    The third reason why this story is my favorite Lorrie Moore story is because it introduced me to a simple, but subtle device: that of prolepsis, I think it’s called. As a teaching story, it provided me a lesson in writing. See, towards the end of the story, Eugene asks the narrator, a dancer, to visit him in his classroom tomorrow while she is leading a workshop at the 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.

    This short aside interrupts the build-up to the final scene, in which all of the characters dance in the living room to “This Is It,” the narrators interior monologue screaming, “This is what life’s done so far down here; this is all and what and everything it’s managed–this body, these bodies, that body–so what do you think, Heaven? What do you fucking think?”

    Despite the simplicity of the move, I think it complicates that last scene a bit. Even as I’m reading this somewhat triumphant ‘giving heaven the bird’ gesture, I can’t help but remember that the narrator will forget to visit Eugene tomorrow. For some reason, I sense that this forgotten rendezvous is more important than the dance. And it troubles me, makes the story a little bit sadder for me.

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    1. Anonymous

        life is sad here is someone

    2. Kyle Minor

        Good post. I haven’t read the story in a long time, and don’t remember any of this. I’ll go back to it this evening.

    3. Kyle Minor

        Good post. I haven’t read the story in a long time, and don’t remember any of this. I’ll go back to it this evening.

    4. christian

        if you need more loggins in your short stories, he’s mentioned in wells tower’s “executors of important energies.”

    5. Anonymous

        I also really love this story. I’ve read it multiple times and never attached much meaning to the forgotten rendevous other than to characterize the narrator’s life as incredibly busy. But now that you mention it, I think it really does add another sad layer over the ending. I think maybe through it the narrator shows the reader her own humility; it’s as if, amidst the “giving heaven the finger” gesture, she wants the reader to keep in mind that she’s also deserving of getting flipped off.
        But I’ll keep thinking about it.
        Great post – thanks for pointing this out!

    6. Gus

        “Love affairs are like that,” she says. “They are like that.”

    7. Josephriippi

        I can’t see or hear this book mentioned without immediately wanting to go home and read “Charades” again.

    8. Ryan Call

        thanks for the tip

    9. Ryan Call

        thanks for the tip

    10. Ryan Call

        ‘she wants the reader to keep in mind that she’s also deserving of getting flipped off.’

        hmmm, yeah, i dont feel it as harshly as that? like, i dont think she deserves getting flipped off in an angry way; i just read it as this sad thing. i mean, she’s definitely busy, right, which is maybe why she forgets, but i think it’s that ‘busy-ness’ of her life that makes it sad, that a lot of times some of my failures as a person, the missed opportunities to accomplish a tiny gesture of connection with someone, those things happen because of my being ‘too busy’ or my putting off things in favor of busywork, etc. hmmmm.

    11. Ross McMeekin

        Yeah, i think I’m with you – both in your reading of it and of my own experience of being a person guilty of missed opportunities/forgetfulness/busyness. Nothing malicious was intended by the narrator – she just forgot/got busy. As you said, that kind of adds to the sadness/tragedy of the ending: that without intending to she may have bummed someone out and herself missed out on a further connection with Eugene. So I guess as a reader I experience this great moment occurring between them and I witness this connection being made through the dance, but I also have in mind that the next day something may sour the memory of it for both her and perhaps Eugene.

    12. Ross McMeekin

        maybe not sour the memory of it…that could be too strong. maybe just add a hint of regret.

    13. Ashley Ford

        Kenny Loggins is my spirit animal.

    14. Anonymous
    15. ryan chang

        love this whole collection, probably my favorite book of lorrie moore’s. more yacht rock in fiction!

    16. Anonymous