Lorrie Moore has a new book of stories, Bark, and I hope readers take notice. No one writes like Moore. She’s always rich in metaphor and simile, sometimes poetic, sometimes astonishingly moving, and often very funny.
Her sentences are like mini-orchestrations. Take for example the following sentence found near the end of “Beautiful Grade,” a story from an earlier collection, Birds of America. Here, the narrator shows us how the adult main character remembers his own alienated childhood and part of a letter he’d written to his distant father. The “He” is the main character; the “it” is his love-starved childhood:
He glimpsed it all from behind some atmosphere, from across some green and scalloped sea–”Dear Dad, How are you? I am fine”–as if it were a planet that sometimes sparkled into view, or a tropical island painted in hot, picture-book shades of orange.
Who writes like this? Lorrie Moore.
Then there’s the humor. From her story “You’re Ugly, Too” (found in Like Life):
Zoe had been out with three men since she’d come to Hilldale-Versailles. One of them was a man in the municipal bureaucracy who had fixed a parking ticket she’d brought in to protest and then asked her out for coffee. At first, she thought he was amazing — at last, someone who did not want Heidi! But soon she came to realize that all men, deep down, wanted Heidi. Heidi with cleavage. Heidi with outfits. The parking-ticket bureaucrat soon became tired and intermittent. One cool fall day, in his snazzy, impractical convertible, when she asked him what was wrong he said, “You would not be ill served by new clothes, you know.”
She wore a lot of gray-green corduroy. She had been under the impression that it brought out her eyes, those shy stars. She flicked an ant from her sleeve.
“Did you have to brush that off in the car?” he said, driving. He glanced down at his own pectorals, giving first the left, then the right, a quick survey. He was wearing a tight shirt.
He slowed down at an amber light and frowned. “Couldn’t you have picked it up and thrown it outside?”
“The ant? It might have bitten me. I mean, what difference does it make?”
“It might have bitten you! Ha! How ridiculous! Now it’s going to lay eggs in my car!”
The second guy was sweeter, lunkier, though not insensitive to certain paintings and songs, but too often, too, things he’d do or say would startle her. Once, in a restaurant, he stole the garnishes off her dinner plate and waited for her to notice. When she didn’t, he finally thrust his fist across the table and said, “Look,” and when he opened it, there was her parsley sprig and her orange slice crumpled to a wad. Another time, he described to her his recent trip to the Louvre. “And there I was in front of Delacroix’s The Barque of Dante, and everyone else had wandered off, so I had my own private audience with it, all those agonized shades splayed in every direction, and there’s this motion in that painting that starts at the bottom, swirling and building up into the red fabric of Dante’s hood, swirling out into the distance, where you see these orange flames — ” He was breathless in the telling. She found this touching, and smiled in encouragement. “A painting like that,” he said, shaking his head. “It just makes you shit.”
“I have to ask you something,” said Evan. “I know every woman complains about not meeting men, but really, on my shoots I meet a lot of men. And they’re not all gay, either.” She paused. “Not anymore.”
“What are you asking?”
The third guy was a political-science professor named Murray Peterson, who liked to go out on double dates with colleagues whose wives he was attracted to. Usually, the wives would consent to flirt with him.
Under the table sometimes there was footsie, and once there was even kneesie. Zoe and the husband would be left to their food, staring into their water glasses, chewing like goats. “Oh, Murray,” said one wife, who had never finished her master’s in physical therapy and wore great clothes. “You know, I know everything about you: your birthday, your license-plate number. I have everything memorized. But then that’s the kind of mind I have. Once, at a dinner party, I amazed the host by getting up and saying goodbye to every single person there, first and last names.”
“I knew a dog who could do that,” said Zoe with her mouth full.
Murray and the wife looked at her with vexed and rebuking expressions, but the husband seemed suddenly twinkling and amused. Zoe swallowed. “It was a talking Lab, and after about ten minutes of listening to the dinner conversation this dog knew everyone’s name. You could say, ‘Take this knife to Murray Peterson,’ and it would.”
“Really,” said the wife, frowning, and Murray Peterson never called again.
You can find the full text to “You’re Ugly, Too” here.
And you can find her new collection, Bark, on the shelves now.