Barkby Lorrie Moore
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, cover/i>/i>
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, cover).
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. (Mar.)
“When Moore opens her sentences out, as she is able to do whenever the rhythm or emotional pitch of a tale demands it, one realizes just how much she is able to encompass, and how tenderly she renders the passage of time. A single Moore sentence can span lives…Even as Moore tells us precisely what we don’t want to hear, she does so in a voice we can’t stop listening to. Moore does not make us feel better; she hurts us. But she hurts us in vital, generous ways, and it is testament to the brilliance of her writing that we let her.”
-Sam Byers, Times Literary Supplement
"Reading the luminous stories in Lorrie Moore's collection is like spending another insanely perfect afternoon with your smartest, most acerbic, tough-minded but loving and loyal friend. Moore is that necessary writer who brilliantly observes the dead-on sorrow and hilarity of our day-to-day. But she's not out to glibly poke fun (though you'll laugh out loud and urgently read sentences to friends) or to glorify gloom; instead, in each of these eight stories, her characters—flawed, middle-aged, divorced, divorcing—are loath to entirely give up.”
Victoria Redel, MORE magazine
“[A] powerful collection about the difficulty of letting love go.”
-Heller McAlpin, Washington Post
“Moore is not only a brilliant noticer. She is also brilliant at noticing those things that ‘one was supposed not to notice,’ namely our seemingly limitless cruelty, apathy, and violence…The initial surprise of Moore’s effervescent, jarring stories ultimately yields to a response that, far from mystification, is its mirror opposite: enlightenment.”
-Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic
“Melancholy and funny…Lorrie Moore is real. Her stories are poignant, and they tackle the things you try not to think about, but with real lightness, so the realness isn’t abjectly depressing.”
“Short fiction master Lorrie Moore’s new volume of stories registers a dark, quirky take on the new-millennial zeitgeist…Moore’s unsparing insights, coupled with her laserlike wit, beam through in ways that surprise, shock, sadden, and cajole on every page...Moore’s wacky, lovable, light-seeking characters move like skittish deer from the safety of the woods to open fields where dangers lurk but life’s saving wonders also reside: a silly joke, a good book, a glass of wine, a favorite song, a shared meal, a sudden kiss.”
-Lisa Shea, Elle
“After all these years, Lorrie Moore still dazzles…For all their genuine sadness and existential angst, these powerfully, almost savagely, human stories shine with a spirit of playfulness and the logic of love…Moore interweaves public failures with individual, private ones to create a seamless tragicomic fabric and reminds us that laughing is sometimes like choking, which is a lot like crying.”
-Bonnie Jo Campbell, O: Oprah Magazine
“No admirer of Moore’s will go away either overloaded or unsatisfied, and the book lets us contemplate and savor just what makes her work unique…Moore didn’t invent the breed, but she may be the chief contemporary chronicler of those whose dread makes them unable to turn off the laugh machine. It’s commonplace to call Moore ‘funny,’ but that’s not quite right. P. G. Wodehouse is funny. Moore is an anatomist of funny…In a world according to Moore—the ‘planet of the apings,’ as one character thinks of it—who could ask for more?”
-David Gates, New York Times Book Review
“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)
“These stories are laugh-out-loud funny, as well as full of pithy commentary on contemporary life and politics.”
-Publishers Weekly (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)
In this slim volume of stories, obliquely titled Bark (referencing the protective covering of a tree, what a dog says, or a boat on which one "embarks"—all seem to apply), Moore once again brings her acute intelligence and wit to play. These sharply observed stories are filled with characters whose sense of irony keeps them at an uncomfortable emotional distance from one another and from the world they inhabit. In one story, a recently divorced father out on a date notices the walls in the restaurant, "like love, were trompe l'oeil…painted like viewful windows though only a fool wouldn't know they were walls." Also like love is the menu, "full of delicate, gruesome things—cheeks, tongues, thymus glands." Clearly, this nascent romance is likewise filled with menace, but the language around it has a fizzy rhythm that will have the reader turning the pages. VERDICT Smart, funny, and overlaid with surprising metaphor, these stories depict absurd situations that are at the same time strikingly familiar. There are no happy endings, but we cannot help laughing. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 9/16/13.]—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA
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. With the announced retirement and Nobel coronation of Alice Munro, Moore (Birds of America, 1998, etc.) seems peerless in her command of tone and her virtuosity in writing stories that could never be mistaken for anyone else's. There's nothing particularly "difficult" about her fiction--except for the incisive reflections of the difficulties, complexities and absurdities of life--nothing academic or postmodern in her approach (except perhaps for the deus ex machina motorcycle gang that inadvertently crashes the unusual wedding in the astonishing closing story, "Thank You for Having Me"). And there is no title story, though the two longest (and two of the best) stories suggest the dual reference of the word "bark," to a tree or a dog. In the opening "Debarking," a man in the aftermath of a painful divorce becomes involved with an attractive woman who is plainly crazy--and perhaps the craziness is part of the attraction? "Oh, the beautiful smiles of the insane," he ruminates. "Soon, he was sure, there would be a study that showed that the mentally ill were actually more attractive than other people." He is a man with a protective bark, and one whose ex-wife accused him of "being hard on people--‘You bark at them.' " In "Wings," a singer involved with a musician who may be crazy, or just deceitful or manipulative, befriends an older man, who responds to the adage "his bark is worse than his bite" with: "I don't know why people always say that. No bark is worse than a bite. A bite is always worse." Every one of these stories has a flesh-tearing bite to it, though all but one ("Referential") are also fiendishly funny. In stories both dark and wry, Moore wields a scalpel with surgical precision.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Read an Excerpt
From "Thank You for Having Me"
The day following Michael Jackson’s death, I was constructing my own memorial for him. I played his videos on YouTube and sat in the kitchen at night, with the iPod light at the table’s center the only source of illumination. I listened to “Man in the Mirror” and “Ben,” my favorite, even if it was about a killer rat. I tried not to think about its being about a rat, as it was also the name of an old beau, who had e-mailed me from Istanbul upon hearing of Jackson’s death. Apparently there was no one in Turkey to talk about it with. “When I heard the news of MJackson’s death I thought of you,” the ex-beau had written, “and that sweet, loose-limbed dance you used to do to one of his up-tempo numbers.”
I tried to think positively. “Well, at least Whitney Houston didn’t die,” I said to someone on the phone. Every minute that ticked by in life contained very little information, until suddenly it contained too much.
“Mom, what are you doing?” asked my fifteen-year-old daughter, Nickie. “You look like a crazy lady sitting in the kitchen like this.”
“I’m just listening to some music.”
“But like this?”
“I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“You are so totally disturbing me,” she said.
Nickie had lately announced a desire to have her own reality show so that the world could see what she had to put up with.
I pulled out the earbuds. “What are you wearing tomorrow?”
“Whatever. I mean, does it matter?”
“Uh, no. Not really.” Nickie sauntered out of the room. Of course it did not matter what young people wore: they were already amazing looking, without really knowing it, which was also part of their beauty. I was going to be Nickie’s date at the wedding of Maria, her former babysitter, and Nickie was going to be mine. The person who needed to be careful what she wore was me.
It was a wedding in the country, a half-hour drive, and we arrived on time, but somehow we seemed the last ones there. Guests milled about semipurposefully. Maria, an attractive, restless Brazilian, was marrying a local farm boy, for the second time—a second farm boy on a second farm. The previous farm boy she had married, Ian, was present as well. He had been hired to play music, and as the guests floated by with their plastic cups of wine, Ian sat there playing a slow melancholic version of “I Want You Back.” Except he didn’t seem to want her back. He was smiling and nodding at everyone and seemed happy to be part of this send-off. He was the entertainment. He wore a T-shirt that read, thank you for having me. This seemed remarkably sanguine and useful as well as a little beautiful. I wondered how it was done. I myself had never done anything remotely similar. “Marriage is one long conversation,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. Of course, he died when he was forty-four, so he had no idea how long the conversation could really get to be.
“I can’t believe you wore that,” Nickie whispered to me in her mauve eyelet sundress.
“I know. It probably was a mistake.” I was wearing a synthetic leopard-print sheath: I admired camouflage. A leopard’s markings I’d imagined existed because a leopard’s habitat had once been alive with snakes, and blending in was required. Leopards were frightened of snakes and also of chimpanzees, who were in turn frightened of leopards—a standoff between predator and prey, since there was a confusion as to which was which: this was also a theme in the wilds of my closet. Perhaps I had watched too many nature documentaries.
“Maybe you could get Ian some lemonade,” I said to Nickie. I had already grabbed some wine from a passing black plastic tray.
“Yes, maybe I could,” she said and loped across the yard. I watched her broad tan back and her confident gait. She was a gorgeous giantess. I was in awe to have such a daughter. Also in fear—as in fearful for my life.
“It’s good you and Maria have stayed friends,” I said to Ian. Ian’s father, who had one of those embarrassing father-in-law crushes on his son’s departing wife, was not taking it so well. One could see him misty-eyed, treading the edge of the property with some iced gin, keeping his eye out for Maria, waiting for her to come out of the house, waiting for an opening, when she might be free of others, so he could rush up and embrace her.
“Yes.” Ian smiled. Ian sighed. And for a fleeting moment everything felt completely fucked up.
Meet 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.
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