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March 11, 2014

Bark by Lorrie Moore

barkI’m still discovering Lorrie Moore, which is a pretty lucky place to be in as a reader. The first book I read of hers was Anagrams, and I just thought it was weird. I really liked The Gate at the Stairs, and then I read Birds of America but I mustn’t have been reading carefully because I don’t even remember it. So when I opened up her latest collection, Bark, I didn’t have the same expectations that her much more devoted readers might have had. I wouldn’t have been able to tell if it was a good Lorrie Moore or a middling Lorrie Moore. As I read it, all I could think was, “So, this is Lorrie Moore,” which was a pretty fantastic revelation.

The stories themselves are many-angled, surprising, full of perfectly articulating revelations. On divorce: “It’s like a trick. It’s like someone puts a rug over a trapdoor and says, ‘Stand here.’ And so you do. Then boom.” Or, “It was like being snowbound with someone’s demented uncle. Should marriage be like that? She wasn’t sure.” And, “A life could rhyme with a life—it could be a jostling close call that one mistook for the thing itself.”

No super-narrative tricks or sleights of hand are going on here. As short story shapes go, these ones are mostly standard, riddled with quirk, but then there is this extra-perspective at play in which characters call out surreality of their situations. “He had never been involved with the mentally ill before…” it is noted of a character in the first story, “Debarking,” a guy who’s dating the bizarre quirky kind of woman who turns up in many a short story, a manic pixie dream girl gone very very wrong. All of these are stories of a world gone askew, and its people definitely know it, however powerless they may be against its forces.

The surrealism and sense of askewness is unsurprising. These are stories of America in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the first story situated sometime in the months after 9/11 and before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The final story begins the day after Michael Jackson died in 2009, and doesn’t offer much hope for the decade to come: “I tried to think positively. ‘Well, at least Whitney Houston didn’t die,’ I said to somebody on the phone.” Foreclosures, banks and big-box bookstores, both. War, fear and Abu Grahib are the backdrop to these smaller stories of domestic disappointment. It got to the point where I was underlining references to decapitation, and there were more than a few. I got the sense that this is a book haunted by the story of Daniel Pearl.

While many of these stories have been published elsewhere, they’ve been collected seamlessly into a curious, fascinating whole that is as much worth remarking on as the stories themselves. The stories are linked by weird decapitation references, and the word “bark” which comes up again and again in a variety of contexts. Trees for one, the bark their protection, as is the case with dogs (which also come up again and again). The question of whether bark is, in fact, worse than bite—just one of many things we’re told that’s patently not true. I wonder if Moore’s bark, our bark, is in fact humour—what saves us from this savage life.

2 thoughts on “Bark by Lorrie Moore”

  1. Sarah says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading ‘Bark’ – but also nice to know that I’ve gone an unread Lorrie Moore in hand! Very glad to hear you enjoyed it.

    ‘Anagrams’ is strange, but I rather love it. There’s a typically Moore – funny but devastating – bit at the end that I adore: “I think, this is why a woman makes things up: Because when she dies, those lives she never got to are all going down with her. All those possibilities will just sit there like a bunch of schoolkids with their hands raised and uncalled on – each knowing, really knowing, the answer.”

    1. Kerry says:

      I think I definitely have to read Anagrams again, especially now that I know what Lorrie Moore is!

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