Don’t read Lorrie Moore. Everybody should read Lorrie Moore immediately. Lorrie Moore is not recommended, lest you dissolve into a pile of tears and whiskey because she says everything you feel and think deep down and not so deep down. Lorrie Moore is essential, because she says everything you feel and think deep down and not so deep down.
I had already been a Lorrie Moore fan. Her writing is beautiful, her female characters complex and flawed and real. Her jokes are sharp, her heartbreaks palpable. I had read a couple of her novels and short story collections and highly recommended them all. But I wasn’t prepared for Self-Help, another of her short story collections with an amusingly ironic title. I find myself in the odd position of simultaneously wanting to tell the world about how wonderful it is and yet wanting to rip all copies from my loved ones hands. After all, I don’t want them to know my secrets, my innermost thoughts, everything I’ve ever hidden in the back of my mind. But I can safely tell you all, internet strangers, to read this book, just in case it is utterly familiar to you too.
There is nothing particularly dramatic plotwise in the stories in “Self-Help”, which is really the point. These are ordinary women, ordinary points in fairly ordinary lives, written in a way that shines with brilliance. The women in these stories conduct affairs with married men while working underwhelming jobs. They despair of their confusing, contradictory mothers only to understand them far too late. They try to survive cancer with dignity and humor while keeping up appearances for pretentious friends. They slowly fall out of love with their longtime partners after years of banal jokes and mediocre sex and weigh the possibility of leaving them. They are smart and funny, which is cold comfort against the forces of death, love, sex, and the constant small cuts of the everyday. Throughout it all, Moore’s voice is strong and clear and a lot like the little one in your head during long frustrated days and sleepless nights.
This is all to say: read it. It is definitely worth it. Just be prepared for it to hit a bit too close to home.