Dance In America by Lorrie Moore, 1993
The magic trick:
Providing two very different answers to a single question
At its core, “Dance In America” is about a woman in the thralls of personal crisis. She is reckoning with the collapse of a relationship, one which ended with her ex accusing her of being selfish. So, was she selfish? Was he right?
Remarkably, the story provides two radically different answers.
One – The story very much argues that perhaps, yes, she was selfish. Her focus on her art – dance in this case – feels very foolish when put against the story of Cal’s family and their struggle with Cystic Fibrosis. Eugene is so pure, so alive, in spite of his situation.
Two – The story very much argues that perhaps, no, she wasn’t selfish. Her art – dance in this case – is the lifeblood of human happiness. It is one of our only true expressions. The scene at the story’s close featuring our four main characters losing themselves to dance is evidence enough that the narrator’s pursuits in life are noble.
So, I guess we don’t have a definitive answer to the question, nor does the narrator. She’ll continue on trying to piece things together, just as the reader can take the story with us and continue considering its different answers. And that’s quite a trick on Moore’s part.
“I’m not married,” I say.
“But you and Patrick are still together, aren’t you?” Cal says in a concerned way.
“Ah, no, we broke up.”
“You broke up?” Cal puts his fork down.
“Yes,” I say, sighing.
“Gee, I thought you guys would never break up,” he says in a genuinely flabbergasted tone.
“Really?” I find this reassuring somehow, that my relationship at least looked good from the outside at least to someone.
“Well, not really,” admits Cal. “Actually I thought you guys would break up long ago.”
“Oh,” I say.