I’ve been thinking about my short story preferences. It seems that a lot of collections that get rave reviews from others do nothing for me. There’s this dry, detached style that seems to be getting a lot of attention lately, and I don’t see what all the fuss is about. It makes me feel like a bad reader, because I’m talking about stuff published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and literary publications like Tin House or One Story. Side note: I’ve found stories to love in all of the aforementioned publications, so please don’t think I’m knocking them. It’s just that sometimes I read something and think, You’re a world-class journal and can choose from the best of the best, and this is what you chose to run this month?! And then I wonder if I’m missing something because it falls so terribly flat for me.
This, sadly, is how I feel about Lorrie Moore. Is she a bad writer? Not in the least. But her writing makes me feel…well, nothing. You know, sort of like Priscilla Lopez sings about in A Chorus Line. Moore has a solid vocabulary, sure, and she tells stories about real things happening to real people, and her work isn’t bad, per se. I just wouldn’t recommend it. And I can’t put my finger on why. I’ve read short fiction — by greats like Hemingway as well as by current writers like George Saunders, Aimee Bender, and virtually the entirety of authors featured in The Best American Short Stories 2012 — that has blown me away. I crave short fiction that just needs to be devoured and that, by the end, leaves me stunned by what I’ve just experienced. For me, with the exception of one story, this collection didn’t come anywhere near my admittedly-high standards.
A bit more (more/Moore! ha!) about the collection itself. The stories are mostly realistic (“The Juniper Tree” features a seance-y scene that’s sort of dreamy and surreal) and focus on the personal aspects of the everyday: marriage, divorce, single parenting, mental illness. Basically, this is a collection of people surviving all the things life throws as them. Although the subject matter isn’t bad, the characters aren’t likable. And I’m not talking about that King Joffrey, love-to-hate-them kind of thing. I simply didn’t care about any of them. (Maybe liking characters is too important to me. I’ll have to examine this in a future post.)
The one exception: “Wings,” an excellent story about a struggling musician past her prime who gets close to an elderly neighbor in the hopes of being left an inheritance. It’s full of people looking for something — or someone — to use, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s got the heart of a novel but the length of a short story, and it really stands out.
All in all: If you’ve enjoyed Moore’s other work, you’d probably enjoy this. (I read A Gate At the Stairs, and the style is the same.) Personally, though, I wouldn’t recommend it.