Bark by Lorrie Moore
4th Apr 2014
Lorrie Moore has been a mistress of the genre since the publication of her first book Self Help, a collection built mainly from stories submitted as part of her thesis.
This and later works were all wonderfully received, and she become known as the go-to girl for brilliant and funny observations on death, failing relationships and loss.
At first glance, Bark’s subject matter seems like old Lorrie Moore territory: it opens with a middle-aged man coping with living alone after a sad divorce, and following tales deal with a teacher losing her best friend to terminal illness, a young woman becoming a reluctant carer for a dying, elderly neighbour, and two young musicians falling slowly out of love.
It's simply too well-executed, too sharp, not to be fresh, concentrating not just on loss but on longing: the gap between what we have and what we want; between not caring and heartbreak; between the new and the old.It might sound off-puttingly, comfortingly familiar to Moore aficionados, but Bark is anything but staid. It’s simply too well-executed, too sharp, not to be fresh, concentrating not just on loss but on longing: the gap between what we have and what we want; between not caring and heartbreak; between the new and the old.
Characters – who are all beautifully realised – are always grasping after something and never quite achieving it: a theme perhaps best encapsulated by Subject to Search, a story which tells of the not-quite love affair between Tom and the narrator.
Never getting off the ground, for both of them their love is inconsequential and the most important thing in the world at the same time. “We’re all suckers for a happy ending,” Tom tells both his lover and the readers, as “electricity burst into it [her hand] then vanished as he let go.”
This is the prevailing feeling throughout each tale: there are no perfect happy endings in Bark, but the masterful descriptions of how the characters lament their lack of happily-ever-after are far more satisfying than the easy conjuring up of knights in shining armour.
Standard love narratives aren’t the only things dismantled. Like the other tales, Tom’s is determinedly set against a wider political backdrop: Tom has something to “sort out” regarding the atrocities at Abu Gharib, another character deals with a repulsive Obama detractor at a dinner party, divorcee Ira dates against the backdrop of the Iraq War and two friends are disgusted by an anti-Hilary Clinton bumper sticker.
Concentrating solely on the politics would have made for preachy, unoriginal satire: by coupling observations with the personal tragedies of her characters Lorrie Moore has managed something far more. It’s nothing as unsubtle as the old “searing indictment” of American society, more a careful inspection.
A direct line is drawn between the helpless striving of divorcees, dying pensioners and the directionless, incompetent madness of the Bush regime.
Moore’s scope takes in both the tragedies of everyday living and the atrocities of war crimes and neo-con bigotry: there’s nothing, it seems, she can’t turn her pen to.
In short, Bark is a neat little bundle of masterpieces, and if fifteen years is what it takes to produce one of those, then Moore is forgiven.