Book Reviews

Bark: Stories by Lorrie Moore

18050057[1]“In these eight masterful stories, Lorrie Moore, in a perfect blend of craft and bewitched spirit, explores the passage of time, and summons up its inevitable sorrows and hilarious pitfalls to reveal her own exquisite, singular wisdom.

In “Debarking,” a newly divorced man tries to keep his wits about him as the United States prepares to invade Iraq, and against this ominous moment, we see-in all its irresistible hilarity and darkness-the perils of divorce and what can follow in its wake…In “Foes,” a political argument goes grotesquely awry as the events of 9/11 unexpectedly manifest at a fund-raising dinner in Georgetown…In “The Juniper Tree,” a teacher, visited by the ghost of her recently deceased friend, is forced to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a kind of nightmare reunion…And in “Wings,” we watch the unraveling of two once-hopeful musicians who neither held fast to their dreams nor struck out along other paths as Moore deftly depicts the intricacies of dead ends and the workings of regret…

Gimlet-eyed social observation, the public and private absurdities of American life, dramatic irony, and enduring half-cracked love wend their way through each of these narratives in a heartrending mash-up of the tragic and the laugh-out-loud-the hallmark of Lorrie Moore-land.” ~Goodreads

Publisher’s Weekly basically summed up these stories from Bark (February 2014) perfectly: “the sly wisdom of Moore’s meditations on time will get under your skin like a splinter.” Like many collections of short stories some go over your head and leave you questioning and some stay with you, begging for a reread right away.

In “Referential”, a mother deals with her son’s mental illness as well as trying to have a relationship with Pete who has been in their lives for four years but seems to be with them because of guilt rather than for love.

“Living did not mean one joy piled upon another. It was merely the hope for less pain, hope played like a playing card upon another hope, a wish for kindnesses and mercies to emerge like kings and queens in an unexpected change of the game. One could hold the cards oneself or not: they would land the same regardless. Tenderness did not enter except in a damaged way and by luck.”

In “Debarking” Ira is newly divorced and while trying to raise a young daughter part-time he is also trying very hard to find a partner to share his life with. He meets Zora who is very odd but somehow Ira puts blinders on and misses all the red flags because he is desperate for love. To make matters worse, Zora has a teenage son named Bruny who is less than thrilled to have this guy Ira invading his territory.

“I can’t live without intimacy, companionship, whatever you want to call it, to face down this global craziness.”

So of course he overlooks many strange things that Zora does. After experiencing the trauma of divorce he is willing to cut her more slack than he did his wife, thinking this is his second chance at a relationship.

In a very memorable “Paper Losses”, Kit and Rafe are getting a divorce but still live together and go on a family vacation that was already planned. Rafe is acting strangely. He spends all his time at home in their basement building model rockets. A midlife crisis? An affair? Depression? Brain Tumor? Kit decided for her own sanity and vanity she would narrow it down to two possibilities: brain tumor or space alien. Kit’s friend Jan believes that all husbands are space aliens and actually calls them UFOs “Ungrateful f**keroos”. The blend of humor and sadness of watching a marriage deteriorate makes this story stand out.

“Subject to Search” briefly observes a couple meeting possibly one last time because of some criminal activity by the man. The details and their relationship is vague and the only thing you know is that he works for international intelligence and is being called back to the US for something serious. But this short meeting is filled with such powerful and witty dialogue:

“Unless you have a life of great importance, regrets are stupid, crumpled-up tickets to a circus that has already left town.”

“We’re all suckers for a happy ending.”

This was the first collection of short stories I have read by Lorrie Moore and by the reviews I have read online, not as good as her previous collections. I have nothing to compare them to except how they made me feel and I thought they each had poignant moments. Moore’s ability to shed light on the not so pleasant times in life with humor and heart struck a nerve. No happy endings here. I can say without hesitation that Moore is someone I will continue to read for my short story fix.

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