Lorrie Moore

It can take a long time to write a short story. Just ask Lorrie Moore, a modern master of the form who has just delivered her first collection of stories in 16-years. The eight stories in Bark once again display her arch insight into contemporary mores and a wit that is often mordantly laugh-out-loud funny.

“Here are themes and motifs that come up repeatedly in Bark,” Daniel D’Addario writes in Salon. “a wedding ring stuck on a character’s finger after the end of the marriage; the specific taste of meat; dessert being mashed into a human face; suburban streets named in a manner so implausibly twee as to make a resident pensively angry or angrily pensive; preoccupation with the political scene that gives way to a hands-thrown-up sort of exhaustion.”

They are the material she uses, Maureen Corrigan observes on NPR, for stories that often “mull over the shock of sudden aloneness after a relationship has collapsed or someone has died. "The Juniper Tree" is a ghost story in which a college professor is visited by the taunting specter of a friend who's just died from cancer. Even the concluding story, "Thank You for Having Me," which is about a wedding, folds in this simultaneously irreverent and profound riff on death and loss. The unnamed wedding guest, a single mom, tells us: “ ‘It felt important spiritually to go to weddings: to give balance to the wakes and memorial services ... And without weddings there were only funerals. I had seen a soccer mom become a rhododendron with a plaque, next to the soccer field parking lot, as if it had been watching all those soccer matches that had killed her. I had seen a brilliant young student become a creative writing contest, as if it were all that writing that had been the thing to do him in ... I had seen a dozen people become hunks of rock with their names engraved so shockingly perfect upon the surface it looked as if they had indeed turned to stone ...’”

David Gates asserts in the New York Times that “the uncrowded format of “Bark” allows each story the chance it deserves for leisurely examination and appreciation, like the kind of museum retrospective you never get to see anymore. It’s just enough: No admirer of Moore’s will go away either overloaded or unsatisfied, and it lets us contemplate and savor just what makes her work unique. … Probably no writer since Nabokov has been as language-obsessed as Moore, but while Nabokov saw himself as an enchanter, a Prospero of words reveling in his power, Moore is a darker spirit, skeptical of language even as she makes it do tricks. “Mutilation was a language,” one character reflects when she sees her son’s cutting scars. “And vice versa.” She’s the most Beckettian of Nabokovians. Her characters banter and wisecrack their way through their largely mirthless lives in screwball-comedy style, but for them it’s a compulsive tic whose aim is sometimes self-protection (utterance that warns others off and forms a protective shell) and sometimes just to fill the void; the point is its pointlessness. “She had given up trying to determine his facetiousness level,” KC says of Dench, her relentlessly witty boyfriend. “She suspected it was all just habit and his true intent was unknown even to himself.” KC and Dench are the sort of people who note that a dried-out spider plant looks like “Bob Marley on chemo,” and that uterine cancer is “the silent killer. Especially in men.”

Lorrie Moore’s Top Ten List

1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).
2. Dubliners by James Joyce (1916).
3. The Iliad by Homer (ninth century b.c.e.?).
4. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (1351–53).
5. Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer (1381).
6. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (1595).
7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).
8. Washington Square by Henry James (1880).
9. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).
10. The stories of Alice Munro (1931– ).