Lorrie Moore is an elder stateswoman of contemporary literature. Her two story collections Self-Help and Birds of America are two of my favorite story collections ever. She is in the age of Vintage Contemporaries with the zany covers where everybody had a recent MFA and it was the 80s and we were reading about divorce and affairs. And Huzzah!
This is not the same thing. In fact, this is a pretty weak collection all around. I couldn’t find a single story I could get behind in this one.
I did find something really really bothersome throughout, a need to refer to popular culture and politics, but to not really do much of anything with them. And worse, to get it wrong.
One time in grad school in a creative writing seminar we were reading this story by a fellow writer (I am not a creative writer by any stretch of means by the way), and his story took place during the NCAA tournament, which starts this coming week. It’s a pretty good time-keeping element in a story because it hasn’t really changed in its essential details in 30 years. In fact, when I was in middle school 20 years ago, I remember distinctly having the teachers turn on the games in the middle of the day and it was super fun. The internet ruined all that, but anyway, in the story, over the course of one week of a story, he collapsed the whole tournament down into five days….which is just doesn’t do! So the whole time we were trying to give him a due reading, but it made no sense.
Point is: if you write a short story that takes place 2003 in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, an event so cemented in my mind that I remember where I was when the bombing started (in my dorm room slamming the doors on people who were blasting “Bombs over Baghdad” and you have a character trying to to decide between a “Mel Gibson movie” and an “Arnold Schwarnegger movie” you had better do your effing homework because neither one of them had a movie out at that time. Sure, Terminator 3 would come out in July (and we were all so sad about that) but don’t make a throw away part of your story so easy to confirm/unconfirm and then take me out of the story.
So that’s where I was during this collection. Rushing because I was annoyed just hoping for one story that justified this book’s existence.
Didn’t find it.