Synopses & Reviews
A new collection of stories by one of America’s most beloved and admired short-story writers, her first in fifteen years, since Birds of America
(“Fluid, cracked, mordant, colloquial....Will stand by itself as one of our funniest, most telling anatomies of human love and vulnerability.” —The New York Times Book Review,
These eight masterly stories reveal Lorrie Moore at her most mature and in a perfect configuration of craft, mind, and bewitched spirit, as she 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 wit 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 themselves 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 inevitable unraveling of two once-hopeful musicians, neither of whom held fast to their dreams nor struck out along other paths, as Moore deftly depicts the intricacies of dead-ends-ville and the workings of regret...
Here are people beset, burdened, buoyed; protected by raising teenage children; dating after divorce; facing the serious illness of a longtime friend; setting forth on a romantic assignation abroad, having it interrupted mid-trip, and coming to understand the larger ramifications and the impossibility of the connection... stories that show people coping with large dislocation in their lives, with risking a new path to answer the desire to be in relation — to someone...
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 life in Lorrie-Moore-land.
"There are eight stories in Moore's latest collection, and, like her previous work (Birds of America), these stories are laugh-out-loud funny, as well as full of pithy commentary on contemporary life and politics. In much of Moore's earlier fiction, the protagonists are young girls or mothers of small children. Here, they are divorcées. They have teenagers. They've variously tried and failed at dating, holding down jobs, being kind, or being sane. Perhaps that accounts for the ever-present sting of sadness in the book: relationships don't fare well (with one slightly desperate exception), and the sly wisdom of Moore's meditations on time will get under your skin like a splinter. 'Referential,' a wry updating of Nabokov's 'Signs and Symbols,' is a fascinating look at what happens when the mind of one writer collides with the mind of another. In the final story, 'Thank You For Having Me,' the narrator stops her teenager daughter's onslaught of scorn by undressing, mortifying her into silence. Moore's final note is one of hope and even love not the romantic kind, but the kind that sees the whole world, flaws and all, and embraces it anyway." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Gaunt, splendid....What an irresistible bunch of characters she conjures up....We still need Lorrie Moore to work hard at making us laugh, to remind us that we're frauds, we're all just acting. To unzip words for us and let their sounds and meanings and pun potentialities jingle out like coins. To point out the silver linings...She never lies to us. She never tells us the water's fine. She says, Dive in anyway, 'swim among the dying' while you can. Learn how to suffer in style."
Parul Seghal, Bookforum
"The short form is her true forte. Her talent is best exhibited in the collection's longest stories (each around 40 pages); her comfort with that length is indicated by her careful avoidance of overplotting, which, of course, dulls the effect of an expansive short story, and by not allowing the stories to seem like the outlines of novels that never got developed."
Booklist (Starred Review)
"One of the best short story writers in America resumes her remarkable balancing act, with a collection that is both hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes in the same paragraph....In stories both dark and wry, Moore wields a scalpel with surgical precision."
Kirkus (Starred Review)
"Moore once again brings her acute intelligence and wit to play....The language has a fizzy rhythm that will have the reader turning the pages. Smart, funny, and overlaid with surprising metaphor....Highly recommended."
Library Journal (Starred Review)
About the Author
Lorrie Moore, after many years as a professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is now Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Moore has received honors for her work, among them the Irish Times International Prize for Literature, a Lannan Foundation fellowship, as well as the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award for her achievement in the short story. Her most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs, was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction and for the PEN/Faulkner Award.
Reading Group Guide
1. What is the metaphor of the title? How do the epigraphs help to set it up?
2. The stories share several themes, among them aging and the passage of time, parents and children, divorce and separation. What would you say is the primary theme of the collection?
3. Several of the story titles have multiple meanings. How does Moore’s wordplay keep the reader guessing?
4. The dialogue in Moore’s stories is often funny. Would you call the stories themselves humorous?
5. Real-life current events cast shadows over several of the stories. How does Moore use them to shape a deeper meaning?
6. In “Debarking,” when Zora tells Ira, “Every family is a family of alligators,” (p. 15), how does this foreshadow what’s to come?
7. Ira reads a poem in Bekka’s journal: “Time moving. / Time standing still. / What is the difference? / Time standing still is the difference” (p. 31). He has no idea what it means, but he knows that it’s awesome. What do you think the poem means?
8. Why do you think Moore titled the story following “Debarking” “The Juniper Tree”?
9. This second story has a dreamlike quality. Do you think Moore expects the reader to accept it as realistic?
10. In “Paper Losses,” Kit asserts: “A woman had to choose her own particular unhappiness carefully. That was the only happiness in life: to choose the best unhappiness” (p. 68). What do you think of this notion?
11. What point is Moore making in “Foes”?
12. What is the metaphor of the “rat king” sequence (p. 140) in “Wings”?
13. In “Subject to Search,” Tom says that cruelty comes naturally to everyone (p. 166). Do you agree? Does that assertion prove true in Moore’s stories?
14. “Thank You for Having Me” draws a clear connection between weddings and funerals, marriage and death. What connections have you seen in your own experience?
15. On page 184, Moore writes, “Maria was a narrative girl and the story had to be spellbinding or she lost interest in the main character, who was sometimes herself and sometimes not.” Which other characters in the collection could be described in this way?
16. Which of Moore’s characters would you most like to meet again?