In Praise Of: Lorrie Moore

30th Nov 2010

Lorrie Moore

I first happened upon the lustrous Lorrie Moore after an amble to Waterstone’s for a copy of Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You.

After lucklessly scanning the shelves, I approached the front desk. Out of stock, came the response, but if you’re interested in Miranda July, you should read some Lorrie Moore. I bought Like Life on recommendation and now owe the mysterious Waterstone’s desk recommender a long overdue ‘thanks, pal.’

A volume of short fiction, Like Life is a succession of wit and clarity, of strange transient moments, of outlandish yet not unbelievable characters and of pithy one-liners.

I’m no great short story fan but the symmetry and depth Moore affects in such a small space of time and space lends her stories a substance not often found in the medium.

Like perfect pop songs, they meander and veer yet timelessly tie up, ending with a neat thud. Often abstract – Moore’s stories offer a poignancy and meaning not revealed until the last possible moment – if revealed at all.

Moore writes on a limited number of themes: relationships (usually failing), the American Midwest, loneliness, illness, children and the past – yet consistently delivers something new and insightful in every story and often, in every sentence.

The voluptuous language is an absolute joy – Moore weaves beautiful, complicated narratives that remain light, absorbing and always engaging. Swinging from the comedic thwacks of:

“Make a list of all the lovers you’ve ever had. Warren Lasher. Ed “Rubberhead”. Catapano. Charles Deats or Keats. Alfonse. Tuck it in your pocket. Leave it lying around, conspicuously. Somehow you lose it. Make ‘mislaid’ jokes to yourself. Make another list.”

to the subtle tenderness of:

“I sit on the edge of the bathtub, drying off Georgianne, marvelling that the human race has managed to create such comforts for itself as the warm fluffy nubs of towels, the squirming, nearsighted silk of daughters.”

Her first published work, Self Help, was comprised of stories written for her MA thesis at Cornell University, where she studied under Alison Lurie (her influence can be found in much of Moore’s writing).

Birds of America, her most recent collection of short fiction, is Moore at her most mo(o)reish – her wit sharpened to a fine point with no punches pulled. Her two novellas, Anagrams and Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? offer a slightly weightier side of Lorrie, with a prolonged and distinct sadness. Moore’s finest pieces have been distilled into a voluminous collected works, a hefty slab of melancholy and mirth.

Moore recently published her first full length novel, A Gate At The Stairs, a somewhat autobiographical story of a young nanny joining a glamorous white couple and their newly adopted bi-racial baby. Her most complete and accomplished piece to date, it suggests Moore is ambitious still. The clipped characterisation and dry yet illustriously embellished writing remains; she’s not showing any signs of creeping sentimentality, no sir!

I eventually got hold of the much-acclaimed No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July… and found it mushily mawkish, stickily saccharine and contrived. Thank you, Lorrie Moore. I think you may have ruined me forever.

Where to start? Like Life (First published in 1990,2010 Faber & Faber re-print available from Amazon for £7.99)

And then? Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? (First published in 1994,2010 Faber & Faber re-print £5.03)

AND THEN?! A Gate At The Stairs (First published 2009, 2010 Faber & Faber edition from £4.05)

Lara Williams


  • Jane Bradley says:

    Thanks for this fab feature, Lara, definitely adding some of these to my Christmas wishlist!

  • Diane says:

    Oh, I love Lorrie Moore so much! My fave of hers is Self-Help, maybe because it’s the first of hers I read. Or maybe because a review of it is the first thing I got published 🙂

    She is the only person to write in the second person without completely annoying me.

    I also really loved Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? I thought A Gate At The Stairs was a bit uneven (and the boyfriend storyline felt tacked-on to me) but the quality of her prose is why I love her. She is so witty and spot-on.