“Who invented the term ‘suffering succotash’?”

From a highly quotable book, a seasonal snippet:

My mother had sprung for eggnog, and a little brandy, and although my father had already gone to bed she and Robert and I sat up for twenty minutes or so, with a coffee log burning low in the fireplace and a plate of gingersnaps on the mantel before we were all too tired to pretend. The coffee log was a favorite of my mother’s though to me it smelled less like coffee and more like a burning shoe. “I’d light the menorah,” said my mother, “but remember what happened last year with the curtains catching on fire.” The curtains had gone up in ablaze and we had thrown a punch bowl of eggnog on them to douse the flames, and the eggnog had sizzled and cooked into the fabric until the whole house smelled like a diner omelet.

“That’s OK,” I said. “I’ll light the menorah tomorrow for you.” Though I would forget to do it. Every year it was my job to clean it, scrape off the previous year’s wax with pins and a fork, so perhaps my forgetting was convenient.

“Thanks, honey,” said my mother, who never called me “honey.” Almost never. The television was on, murmuring low and flashing its colors. My mother flicked it off with annoyance. “A grinch who stole Christmas?” she said. “With all that’s going on in the world we should have to deal with that?”

— Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs, p. 44.

Sometimes, as I read, the Lorrie Moore voice that I love drove me crazy. Who talks like this? What about the emotional punch? It’s like a punch by a fist with a talky mouth drawn on it. (In Lorrie Moore’s world, everything is like something else and seethes with life.)


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