‘Agnes Of Iowa’ by Lorrie Moore

Agnes Of Iowa by Lorrie Moore, 1996

The magic trick:

Commenting broadly on human existence while telling a very specific story

We’re off to Iowa today. We start with a story that isn’t necessarily complimentary to its setting.

Let’s look at some highlights:

  • ‘I feel like I’ve got five years to live,’ she told people, ‘so I’m moving back to Iowa so that it’ll feel like fifty.’
  • When she packed up to leave she knew she was saying goodbye to something important, which was not that bad in a way because it meant that at least you had said hello to it to begin with, which most people in Cassell, Iowa could not claim to have done.
  • She had grown annoyed with Iowa, the pathetic, third-hand manner in which the large issues and conversations of the world were encountered there. The oblique and tired way history obligingly insinuated itself. If ever. She longed to be a citizen of the globe!

Some of it’s funny. Some of it’s angry. All of it is pure.

And that’s the magic here. This story – like so much of her work – has the unique ability to tell a very specific story while also commenting on the truths of existence.

Very much like F. Scott Fitzgerald in that way.

And that’s quite a trick on Moore’s part.

The selection:

‘Thank you,’ he said. He looked at her coat in a worried way. ‘You’re leaving?’

She looked down at her coat. ‘I’m afraid I have to get going home.’ She wasn’t sure whether she really had to or not. But she’d put on her coat, and it now seemed an awkward thing to take it off.

‘Oh,’ he murmured, gazing at her intently. ‘Well, all best wishes to you, On-yez.’

‘Excuse me?’ There was some clattering near the lectern.

‘All best to you,’ he said, something retreating in his expression.

Stauffbacher suddenly appeared at her side, scowling at her green coat, as if it were incomprehensible.

‘Yes,’ said Agnes, stepping backward, then forward again to shake Beyerbach’s hand once more; it was a beautiful hand, like an old and expensive piece of wood. ‘Same to you,’ she said. Then she turned and fled.


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