From the Publisher
"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."
-Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
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.)
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.
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.