by Lorrie Moore
Faber & Faber
things you were saying might be old radio programs bounced off the foil
of your molars, or taxi calls fielded by the mussely glove of your ear.
What you described as real might be only a picture, something from Life
magazine you were forced to live out, after the photography, in
Reviewed by Emma Young
Like Life is Moore’s second collection of short stories, her debut being Self-Help,
and it moves away from the "How to" nature of the first work this time
to offer a sense of different versions of "life" itself. The collection
as a whole is moving, provocative and perfectly crafted. As with all of
Moore’s writing the language and structure is executed with grace and
precision, as in the final lead story Like Life;
"In February a thaw gave the city the weepy ooze of a wound". The
language wraps itself around its meaning beautifully making the coarse
and cold city appear warm and appealing through the blend of the
The stories in this collection all follow the life of
an individual and conflict the nature of existence, the idealization of
life and the suggestion that there is "life" and "like life" in
someway. The stories provoke the question of "what is our reality" and
therefore "what is reality"? Whether it is Mary in the opening story Two Boys with her double life dating two men, or Mamie in the closing story Like Life
for whom reality and existence are becoming confusing and problematic
categories, all of these characters narratives go against the grain of
explainable, definitive and unquestioning existences.
Two stories in particular resonated greatly within this collection: Like Life and Vissi d’Art. Both of these stories explore the verges of surrealism and fantasy and blur the very boundaries of life and reality. In Vissi d’Art Harry
the writer, who refuses to sell his morals and write for television
believing himself to be a true artist, is left by his girlfriend who is
fed up of living in the meat-packing district of New York. He remains
in his Soho flat and now on his own his life seems to slip from his
went upstairs to his apartment and slowly opened the door to his
bathroom. He reached for the switches to the light and fan and turned
them on in a single, dramatic flick.
The tub. The miso soup was gone, but in its stead was a dark brown sludge, a foot deep, sulfurous and bubbled.
his flat slowly disintegrates from pollution so too does Harry’s life
and arguably his sanity as the story borders on the real and surreal.
Likewise, in Like Life
the story moves between a sense of the safe and everyday to a
threatening, darker and more surreal aspect of life as people begin to
"suspect that they were being spied on, controlled, that what they had
thought when they were little – that the people on the television could
also see you – now was true". In a highly big-brotheresque turn of
events the story is permeated by the dark and sinister. The story
questions life and the future with a certain ambiguity over both and
concludes with Mamie stepping forward in the "Here. But not now",
epitomizing the conflict poignantly.
Whilst these two stories stood out personally not all of the collection is quiet and dark and surreal. Like Life
is filled with an array of stories that re-work its central motif in
numerous ways. The stories are never depressing due to the wit and
humour that runs throughout all of them. Even in the darker narratives
that deal with physical illness and questions of death Moore manages to
maintain a sense of warmth and humour in her language and characters.
2004 Moore won the Rea Award for the short story acknowledging her vast
achievements within the genre. The quality of the creativity, language
and narrative in all of these stories is justification enough for such
an achievement let alone the marvelous work composed in Self-Help and Birds of America.
|Emma Young is a PhD student at
the University of Leicester working on her thesis: Contemporary Women’s Writing and
the Short Story Genre. Her work explores the implications
of gender and genre by discussing the work of numerous contemporary
women authors including Lorrie Moore and Ali Smith and considers the
implications of new digital technology on the short story..