A COMPENDIUM OF SKIRTS
by Phyllis Moore

Publisher
:  Carroll & Graf

Pub Date:  Fall 2002

Format:  Trade Paperback original

Brief Description
A breathtaking debut collection, revolving mainly around single women in their 30s.  Author has been published in numerous national magazines, shortlisted in BEST AMERICAN and PUSHCART, and has received an all-star list of endorsements.
(see below for Full Description)

Endorsements
"Moore lends to her characters what ... is her own keen ear, clean vision.... Her writing is precise and vivid."
—Jane Hamilton
author of A Map of the World and Disobedience

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Reviews
"Short and sweet and to the point, the seven stories in this promising debut collection exuberantly explore the relationships that make life bearable. In a rueful examination of brother/sister love, "The Language Event," set at the Indy 500, manages to be rowdy and exquisitely wistful at the same time. Moore strikes another significant chord in "Big Pink and Little Minkie," conjuring magic by exploring the tenuous but often poignant truths to be gleaned from the mundane commuter experience. She hits the ball out of the park with the near novella-length "A History of Pandas," a flawless exercise in characterization. This sharp portrayal of sisterhood sings, as the narrator, called Sweet Pea, examines the root of her boundless adoration of her sibling Lydia, a preschool teacher whose early widowhood has forged a bond between the two that time can not diminish. In "Rembrandt's Bones," a professor of art history deals with two simultaneous deaths a student's suicide and the natural death of sugar-loving Opal, a childhood mentor who taught her to love words and always to appreciate the unexpected. Revealing a spiritual kinship with Lewis Nordan, Moore writes matter-of-fact yet outlandish sentences that read like tiny novels "Opal's Cousin Alma was married to my second cousin J.W. and when J.W. died, Alma showed up at the funeral with a lady-pink pistol and shot him five times in his open coffin before they could get the gun away from her. They couldn't figure out what to charge her with." Although all of the female narrators speak with nearly the same wry and self-aware voice, readers will enjoy this buoyant collection."
--Publishers Weekly

" This short story collection is long on appeal and certain to make great reading now that the days are getting shorter…. A Compendium of Skirts: Stories by Phyllis Moore (Carroll & Graf, $23) is a moving and wise portrait of contemporary life. In the title story, rather than trying to explain the intricacies of female conversation with New Age symbols or pop psychobabble, Moore writes: "There was the Everything Means Something Else conversation, the You've Gotta Do What's Right for You conversation, and the Man Has Not Progressed an Inch Since Lascaux conversation.  In The Hartford Courant, Helen Ubinas comments: "Moore's writing has been described as short, sweet and to the point. But her writing is also witty and self aware and as funny as hell." Consider this passage from the story entitled Rembrandt's Bones: "Opal's Cousin Alma was married to my second cousin J.W. and when J.W. died, Alma showed up at the funeral with a lady-pink pistol and shot him five times in is open coffin before they could get the gun away from her. They couldn't figure out what to charge her with."
          Another paragraph from a narrator who examines the relationship with the sister she idolizes: "I have cleaned this apartment within an inch of its life and it knows it--sheets ironed and lavendered, the spices alphabetized. Compared to me, Martha Stewart is a ten-dollar crack whore passed out on a cold kitchen floor strewn with dirty, if cleverly crocheted syringes. Last night, as I made the inspection tour, room by room, the furniture cowered in fear."
          Big Pink and Little Minkie takes readers into the world of a group of
bus commuters--and it is magical! One of the passengers is Mother Man, so named because of the words he shouts out suddenly from time to time. And then there's Boyfriend Historian; her cell phone conversations have engulfed her fellow passengers into her life and boyfriend troubles. Moore writes: "Her mother hated Simon, and after a few months we began to hate Simon too. But now she has met Larry and Larry seems to be an outstanding individual. We on the bus are grateful to Larry and hope, in fact, he marries the chatty say-nothing and takes her home to Toronto or some such place, anywhere the number 147 does not run."
          Ubinas goes on to say, "There are writers who write beautifully, and others who write clearly, if a bit dryly, of important things. Moore, however, blends humor, eccentric relationships and mischievous plot turns in a beautifully written collection that talks, among many things, of friendship, family and neurosis. Her details and characterizations make it impossible to read a page without underlining just about every sentence, or earmarking every corner."
--Publishers Weekly Daily
Reviews in the News (Judi Baxter)


"Stories that'll excite the lapel-grabbers"
        'Nobody runs up to you in the hall and tells you, 'You gotta read this! You gotta read this!'"says a female college teacher in Phyllis Moore's A Compendium of Skirts , annoyed to the max by the bloodless acadamese of "well put, insightful." Well, spare me the running, but it's been a long time since a story collection had me grabbing people's lapels like this one. It's worth paying a few friends' cleaning bills to spread the word.
        Long anticipated in Chicago academic circles (Moore teaches at the School of the Art Institute), Skirts is one of those books that boasts such an endearingly original voice, we derive entirely new insights and sensations from places we think we've been and characters we think we've seen. The author, who left her heart in Tallahassee, is both Southern eccentric and Northern neurotic, pixillated and pent-up. Slyly, self-effacingly, bravely, charmingly, she breaks your heart even as she cracks you up with her tales of hopeless self-improvement.
        A recurring theme in Skirts is the struggle to measure up--or, in the case of love affairs with dimly lit but attentive men ("I like him because he listens all the way to the end of my sentences"), the guilty pleasures of measuring down. One of Moore's largely interchangeable female protagonists is dragged on a whirlwind tour of Europe by an impetuous girlfriend, in a story that connivingly begins, "Once, in Hamburg, Daralynn prevented us from getting kidnapped and worse by three giant Turks. Lucky for us we had the peanut butter."
        Another character, attempting a reunion with her estranged deadbeat brother against the backdrop of Indianapolis 500 tail-gating has her nostalgia for their army brat past and all hopes for renewed family ties washed away in a stream of distaste. In the multipart "History of Pandas," an older sister's triumph of perfect taste over her sibling's stunted living style ("I have clothes; Lydia has outfits") helps her past memories of the grisly murder of her Air Force lieutanant husband in Taiwan.
        This may sound like heavy stuff. But one of Moore's triumphs is to keep such feathery streams of consciousness swirling around the dark spots in the narratives that we invest most in the lives that are being lived, not the lives that were lost. Nary a drop of sentimentality gets spilled. Like the female North Sider who lives vicariously through the exploits of two elderly, aristocratically self-possessed Russian women she spies every day on the 147 bus, Moore can't collect enough details about her subjects to keep their stories spinning.
        A proud child of the '50s, she is also a committed collector of pop culture, anchoring her values in vintage television--"To Tell the Truth," "The Andy Griffith Show" and old toothpaste commercials--while making steady, disarming, brilliant use of wider-ranging references. One story runs a gamut of Doris Day, George Jones, Fritz Lang and Franz Kafka, not to mention that outspoken new punk band, "The New Christy Menstruals."
        Shredding any sense of Southern reserve, Moore uses obscenities to uproarious effect. It's too bad I can't reprint her unique extension of the word "unbelievable," into which she inserts an expletive to express delight over an unexpected taste sensation. I also wish there were more room here to impart a feel for her comic timing--her payoffs can't be appreciated out of context. Take my word for it: She's a stitch. Take my word for it again: You gotta read Skirts"
--Chicago Sun Times


"On a long commute, over a cup of coffee on Saturday morning or curled up in front of the fireplace on a chilly October night, short stories make a wonderful companion. Two new collections give readers a wide choice of characters and voices.
       "Nobody runs up to you in the hall and tells you, 'You gotta read this! You gotta read this!' " says a female college teacher in Phyllis Moore's A Compendium of Skirts (Carroll & Graf, $24). "Well, spare me the running," says Lloyd Sachs in the Chicago Sun-Times, "but it's been a long time since a story collection had me grabbing people's lapels like this one. It's worth paying a few friends' cleaning bills to spread the word."
       The recurring themes in these seven stories are the struggle to measure up and the exploration of relationships that make life bearable for us. Little gems like this one from "Rembrandt's Bones" tend to evoke audible laughter from the reader: "Opal's Cousin Alma was married to my second cousin J.W. and when J.W. died, Alma showed up at the funeral with a lady-pink pistol and shot him five times in his open coffin before they could get the gun away from her. They couldn't figure out what to charge her with."
       In "Big Pink and Little Minkie," she writes of tenuous but poignant truths gleaned by a female North Sider who lives vicariously through the exploits of two elderly but aristocratic Russian women she watches every day on the 147 bus. In "History of Pandas," a woman whose Air Force husband has been murdered in Taiwan triumphs over her younger sister's lifestyle by grooming her own perfect taste ("I have clothes; Lydia has outfits").
       Sachs concludes: "Shredding any sense of Southern reserve, Moore uses obscenities to uproarious effect. It's too bad I can't reprint her unique extension of the word 'unbelievable,' into which she inserts an expletive to express delight over an unexpected taste sensation. I also wish there were more room here to impart a feel for her comic timing--her payoffs can't be appreciated out of context. Take my word for it: She's a stitch. Take my word for it again: You gotta read Skirts."
--PW Daily October 24, 2002
Reviews in the News: Skirts at Home and Abroad

"Moore exhibits a writing style reminiscent of 1960s rebel fiction that is often simultaneously cynical and ingenuous. In "The Language Event," for instance, Mary Louise goes to Indianapolis to reunite with her brother Richard, who lives in a camper with his friend, Chit. Moore evokes the past in both language and situation when she observes of the camper, "[They] had gone in on it together. They pooled their money, their carburetor skills When it was all fixed up and running, they painted it pink." Her colorful descriptions also evoke vivid mental pictures."
--Library Journal


Full Description
         
A refreshing blend of sensibilities marks this beautifully written and immediately accessible collection as something special. From the perspective of mostly single female protagonists, the stories in A Compendium of Skirts feature all kinds of characters, all of whom are grappling with universal matters of the heart, mind, and soul. In "The Language Event" an estranged brother and sister organize a reunion in which they awkwardly try to forge a new relationship. "Once, in Hamburg" is a rumination on friendship and the devotion, love, and loyalty that save two young women from themselves. In "Rembrandt’s Bones," an art history teacher struggles to cope with both the suicide of one of her students, a quiet girl who sat in the back of the room and preferred a beat-up copy of The Idiot to the assigned text, and the sudden death of her favorite aunt, a woman who wore pink slacks, read Camus with a passion, and believed in the power of sugar. And in the title story, a group of women friends sits around the kitchen table and ponder life, love, and memories—perhaps real, perhaps imagined. These stories and others come together in a moving and wise portrait of contemporary life. 


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