"But I love you, he will say in
his soft, bewildered way, stirring the
spaghetti sauce but not you, staring into the pan as if waiting for
something, a magic fish, to rise from it and say: That is always
enough, why is that not always enough?"
Reviewed by Sarah Salway
to become a writer like Lorrie Moore – go for the jugular,
shape every sentence until it sings, tackle every subject head-on,
Help was apparently written almost exclusively for her Masters thesis.
Although it has a little annoying archness of a young writer showing
off, overall this collection has stood the test of time. It’s
one I return to when I want to look at unusual structures for a short
story, before getting seduced by the quality of the writing. Open any
page at random and you’re guaranteed a perfect sentence
– "Dream, and in your dreams babies with the personalities of
dachshunds, fat as Macy balloons, float by the treetops." Beautiful. As
indeed, although in a different way, is, "Wives are like
cockroaches…They will survive you after a nuclear attack
– they are tough and hardy and travel in packs –
but right now they’re not having any fun." Ouch.
the seven stories, three titles begin, ‘How to..’
and one is just called ‘How’. The slightly
hectoring tone, and frequent use of second person, fits the theme of
how Moore’s heroines want to know the answers to questions
they can’t articulate, and feel nostalgic for things
they’ve never really achieved – true love,
belonging, purpose. Only Moore’s witty writing stops this
falling into cynicism. It’s hard to resist a story which
begins, ‘Understand that your cat is a whore and
can’t help you’.
me the two stand outs in this collection are How to Become a
Writer – The only happiness you have is writing
something new, in the middle of the night, armpits damp, heart
pounding, something no one has yet seen – and How
to Talk to Your Mother (Notes). I took apart the structure of
How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes) the
first time I read it, like a dressmaker deconstructing a fine garment.
As it consists of a selection of paragraphs ranging back from after the
mother’s death to the moment of conception, I guessed a
strategic author like Moore would work in a middle point. Eureka. At
exactly the centre of the story, in 1961, the grandmother dies and the
narrator has an abortion – leaving only the two women at the
centre of the generations, forever stuck with each other.
Moore has said in an interview that she shudders at the thought of her
work being analysed, it proves to me that these seemingly slight
stories have been crafted so tightly, both in language and structure,
that it is only in the hands of a master that they can retain any
character and passion. Luckily Moore is a master.
her very funny How to Become a Writer, Moore has
her narrator start with, "First, try to be something, anything, else",
and at the end of the story, likens her need to write as "a lot like
having polio." Interesting, smiles the date the narrator is telling
this to, "and then he looks down at his arm hairs and starts to smooth
them, all, always, in the same direction."
me another short story writer, or indeed any writer, who can beat the
cruel biting humour of an observation like that.
is a poet, short story writer
novelist. She is the author of the novels, Something Beginning With and
Tell Me Everything (Bloomsbury). Her short story collection, Leading
the Dance, is published by Bluechrome, and, with Lynne Rees, she is the
co-author of the collaborative classic, Messages.
Publication Date: 1985
Lorrie Moore was born in 1957 in Glen Fells, NewYork. Her
work has appeared in the New Yorker and Best American Short Stories.
Author of novels, Anagrams, and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, and
short story collections, Birds of America and Like Life. She is a
Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin- Madison.
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Publisher's Website: Faber
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