The rooms in our house were like songs Each had its own rhythmic spacing and clutter, which if you crossed your eyes became a sort of musical notation, a score – clusters of eighth notes, piles of triplets, and the wooden roundness of doorways like clefs, all blending in a kind of concerto. Or sometimes, as with the bathroom, with its motif of daisies and red plastic, they created a sort of jingle, something small, likeable, functional. It was the bookcase in the living room that seemed particularly symphonic, the books all friendly with one another, a huge chorus of them in a hum; they stood packed behind glass doors with loose metal knobs. My mother also kept photo albums, scrapbooks, yearbooks, on the bottom shelf of the case, along with big, heavy books like Smith’s World History and the Golden Treasury of Children’s Stories. In one book she had black and white pictures of herself, starting from when she was little. Gray, empty days I would take that book out and look at it. By the time I was nine, I knew all the pictures by heart. To stare at them, to know those glimpses, I felt, was to know her, to become her, to make my mother, a woman with adventures, a woman in a story, a book, a movie. The photos somehow seem powerful. Sometimes I still look at them, with a cup of coffee, with the television on. (pgs. 26-27; What is Seized)
Lorrie Moore is known for her short stories with stories appearing in The Paris Review and The New Yorker. In fact, her collection Self-Help is almost entirely composed of stories from her Master’s thesis. I first heard of Lorrie Moore when her novel A Gate at the Stairs was published in 2009. It was a book that I would put on my list, then take it off, then put it back on. I kept hearing mixed things about the novel so when I saw Self Help on the new book shelf at the library I picked it up to see what I thought of the author through her short stories. And after reading them I am still not sure.
These nine stories are well done, well crafted. But they paint a stark, almost bleak picture. The series is about loss and love with cold men and, occasionally, cold women, women seeking validation through love, children seeking hope after bad childhoods. People trying to rewrite their lives, even rewrite their endings. There are stories of dying mothers, dying relationships, relationships going nowhere, writing going nowhere. It is hard to find glimmers of hope in the midst of the insightful, beautifully written sentences.
Lorrie Moore is definitely a good writer, but she is one I have to take in small doses. So I will stick to the odd story I run across. It may be a while before I pick up another one of her collections or novels.