Backlogged | Lorrie Moore Obsession

Dude, where’s my life?

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had anytime to review the wonderful books I’ve read throughout half of February.  I’m going to have to let a few slip by, but two of them I can’t really just let go of that easily.  One is an oldie but a goodie, and the other is brand spankin’ new.  So, today, oldie but goodie.  Next week, brand spankin’ new.

Lorrie Moore Creeper

First lesson in reading or writing literary fiction: if you haven’t read Lorrie Moore, put your pencil down, stop patting yourself on the back for that witty new character you’ve created and go to the literature, particularly the M’s for Moore.  As a side note, if you haven’t read Lorrie Moore, I can not be your friend until you do that.  I know, I have harsh standards for friendship, but that’s definitely one of my top five, after loyalty and before good note passing skills (in my later years we call those penpalships, or letters on stationary).

I’m not even sure I can dare speak about Lorrie Moore.  I’m not even sure, like Alice, I can reach the door knob of Lorrie Moore’s castle.  But, as always, I’m going to try.

Self-Help, at its heart is a collection of stories on how to be a helper of mankind.  I know that sounds really sentimental, but she does it in a way that you don’t even see coming.  One second you’re in this imagined lovers-turned-roommates relationship and the next second (boom) you’re in the clutches of your own life, unable to breathe and heaving for air.  To be honest, I’m pretty sure I’m the girl in both “How” and “How to Become a Writer.”  And this is definitely not a case of me reading too into things.  But that’s the glory of Lorrie Moore, you actually think you’re a character, even beyond that anonymous “you.”   You find yourself saying, “wait, I would totally meet a boyfriend at a ‘rummage sale'” or “‘escape into [a] book.  When he asks what you’re reading, hold it up without comment.'”  I’m really passive aggressive, a perfect girl to hold a book and continue in the silence.

Plus, I’m not going to lie, but every time I read this book (probably at eight times right about now, counting all the anthologized stories I read throughout undergrad ficiton writing classes) I still feel like one of these women.  I still feel caught up in my life, or like I could stab my (invisible) husband in a bakery if I caught him cheating.  This is probably saying more about me than it is about this book.

Drawing of Moore's story "To Fill" by artist Sam Jacoff

I don’t even know really how to describe Lorrie Moore’s writing because it’s just fascinating to look at.  She uses metaphors like everything can be related to everything.  It’s almost a six degree separation with her.  One of the quotes below has a man making love to a woman but using robotic movements like someone opening a cupboard.  Who would think that way?  It’s like her brain is a series of pockets that correlate with one another and of course sex-cupboard, why haven’t we made this connection before?  I wish it was that easy for all writers, but then we wouldn’t have like Lorrie Moore to both teach and humble us.

She’s also both witty and sentimental which is hard to do.  At times you think witty and cynical go together and other times you want to cry because she’s leaving you broken from all angles.  I think the star of this collection is the use of second person to make the reader be literally in the story.  A lot of people are turned off by the “you” but I think in every instance she uses it, although it’s a lot, it works.  (So, get turned on).  I’m not sure that if the writing was less impeccable and less finely detailed than Moore’s, that I would have accepted so many stories in second person.

Signature of Lorrie Morre on Self-Help

In the story, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” Moore chronicles a break-up from moment of initial demise all the way through packing bags (initial demise is of course a cat, aren’t they always)?  However in “How to Talk to Your Mother” she does almost the opposite by chronicling a girls life backwards by year.  From years without your mother, to the womb.  This is probably the moment where I learned ten pages make a life.  In fact, one page, one sentence, probably makes a life.  Thus, why we have six word memoirs.  In fact, I dare you all (readers and whoever else happens to stumble here by googling bad things) to write a chronicle of your life backyards using a person or a situation as the nail it all hangs on.  Moore uses the mother to define the daughter, now you use something in your own life to chronicle yourself backwards, and of course use the second person, “you.”  See where it gets you, email what you come up with.  This is a dare, a triple dog dare.  I’ll do it too, I need to write anyway.

The best gift, from the best writers, is the need to tell your own story; made-up or true. That’s what I believe.

I’ll end this by saying: Lorrie Morrie is all of the things that I want to be when I grow up.

Here are my favorite quotes:

  • “Beware of a man who says he loves you but who is incapable of a passionate confession, of melting into a sob.” (43, Moore, “What is Seized”). First of all how does she manipulate grammar that way.  Secondly, isn’t this a story of a whole generation of men and boys in just one sentence.
  • “When your parents divide, you, too bifurcate.  You cleave and bubble and break in two, live two lives, half of you crying every morning on the dock at sunrise, black hair fading to dusky gray, part of you traveling off to some other town where you teach school and tell jokes in an Italian accent in a bar and make people laugh.  And when your mother starts to lose her mind, so do you.  You begin to be afraid of people on the street.  You see shapes — old men and spiders — in the wallpaper again like when you were little and sick.  The moon’s reflection on the lake starts to look to you like a dead fish floating golden belly up.  Ask anyone.  Ask anyone whose mother is losing her mind.” (42, Moore, “What is Seized”) I think she wanted to use bifurcate in a sentence, and tell you what divorce is like.  I think she writes magic into places on peoples bodies where it has died, or has become lonely.  
  • “I think of my father, imagine him long ago at night casually parting my mother’s legs with the mechanical indifference of someone opening a cupboard.  And I say to myself: I will leave every cold man, every man for whom music is some private physics and love some unsteppable dance.  I will try to make them regret.  To make them sad.  I am driving toward my tiny kitchen table and I will write this: forgiveness lives alone and far off down the road, but bitterness and art are close, gossipy neighbors, sharing the same clothesline, hanging out their things, getting their laundry confused. (46, Moore, What is Seized). 

I have more favorite quotes that go beyond that one story, but I think those quotes kind of tell a story on their own.

Links:

  1. Here is a wonderful interview with Lorrie Moore from Paris Review.  I think her answers aren’t sprinted through, but well-thought out.
  2. Here is another one from The Believer where she answers different questions.
  3. The Short Review…review of Self-Help.
  4. The American Literary Review (blogspot). I’m kind of obsessed with the title of this blog.

19 thoughts on “Backlogged | Lorrie Moore Obsession

    • Cassie says:

      Ou yay! And use betterworldbooks.com – I think it’s only 3.98 and free shipping world wide! Plus it’s a literacy non-profit. (Now that my schpeel is over).

      Don’t worry we’ll be friends forever. PS. if & when are you selling your post cards?! I want the cow one!

  1. Let's CUT the Crap! says:

    I absolutely loved this post and checked out Lorrie Moore. I thought I had her in my bookshelves but I was wrong. I have Lisa Moore. Now I can’t wait to get a copy of her book.

    I just got back from a book swop today. You bring six books and take seven home. I was practically levitating as my eyes devoured titles. Do I need to get Self-Help. YES I DO! Thanks for sharing.

    • Cassie says:

      Oh good and thank you. A book swap sounds wonderful. Did you do it with a bunch of friends. What a great idea!!!

      I hope you enjoy her as much as I do. You’ll have to let me know what you think!

  2. zettew says:

    Cassie,

    Since i’d like to think we could be friends, I immediately put a couple of Lorrie Moore’s books on my TBR list and will be looking for them at my library!

      • zettew says:

        Will do! Thanks for the tip, always love reading new authors. Just finished almost 600 pgs of “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness, also a new author to me, loved it!

      • zettew says:

        It’s about a witch who denies her magic, she’s a historian, and is studying at Oxford. She comes across a manuscript in the library that she feels may be spelled, but doesn’t want to get into anything magic related, so she returns the manuscript. Almost immediately vampires, daemons and other witches are attracted to her, follow her, and are anxious for her to get the manuscript again. There are different theories, but each creature feels that the manuscript tells of their species beginning. It’s the first in a trilogy, the second one comes out in June – I know what I’m requesting for my birthday!!!

      • Cassie says:

        Okay, I admit….I’m kind of a vampire book hater. I’ve just been inundated with vampire and werewolf books. HOWEVER, this sounds TOTALLY interesting. I’m in love with the intellectual twist of Oxford and then the magic. Ou, I’m pumped. I’m adding it to the list. Do a review!!

  3. Ellen Rhudy says:

    I read A Gate at the Stairs a couple months ago (it had turned into one of those pathetic cases where I pre-ordered a book…and then kept forgetting to read it) and didn’t love it, but you’ve just reminded me why I like Lorrie Moore so much. Time for rereading!

  4. lucysfootball says:

    Lorrie Moore’s books are absolutely transcendant. I’m not a short fiction person, but I make an exception for brilliance – Lorrie Moore is one of those exceptions (Raymond Carver is another – I’ve read his collections so many times they’re falling apart.) Her writing is so poetic and spare and haunting and painful – it makes me gasp, it makes my stomach hurt, it makes my heart jump. I adore everything she does.

    • Cassie says:

      Agree, agree, agree. Raymond Carver, swoon. If only I could be a modern day Tess Gallagher and win him. I think he had a big influence on popularizing the short story.

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