Monday, April 5, 2010

And My New Favorite Female Author is: Lorrie Moore

Is it sexist to say that I never thought I'd read a female author who resonated with me, or certainly not to the extent male authors have? Yes? It is? (very limp dick, vaginal sexism, but still) Well, I'm glad to say that this sexist opinion has also proved to be a false opinion after reading the short stories of Lorrie Moore, who is funny as hell and whom I highly recommend to you who read, whether you're like me (i.e. a manly man of men) or not (girly, foppish, wimpy, et al).

In seriousness though Lorrie Moore might be one of the best short story writers at work today. I read "Birds of America" and was sucked right in, like instead of it being a book with words presented in some logical picture of storytelling she had a mechanism that compelled you to stare at pages in a paged and rectangular object, a mixture of incomprehensible words the only thing filling pages. But this (the reading experience as engendered by Moore) was so much better than that!

One smallish aspect of her writing that I especially enjoyed is her way of introducing humorous turns of phrase and bringing them back into the text at a later point for both dramatic effect and usually heightened comedic effect, a great emotional paradox is the outgrowth of this and, even though it seems a staple of her fiction, it never really gives way to feeling like a gimmick. It's usually done in a manner that's tasteful and fitting, or "natural" might be the term. In that regard, I can best liken it to my attitude about George Saunders' often idiomatic narrative voice.

An example of what I'm describing is put together very nicely in "Beautiful Grade" in which the main character, a college professor, has brought with him his much younger ex-student-cum-lover named Debbie to a party with friends, intellectual friends, and the story proceeds to unveil the dynamics of a meal with said prescribed assemblage of intellectuals. One of whom is a Serb named Lina, teaching Slavic studies, and who has befriended the main character, Bill, the college professor. At one point Lina remarks to Bill, after a heated discussion of WWII turns to a heated discussion of the Bosnian War:

"I was the one standing there with the crowd, clapping and chanting beneath Milosevic's window: 'Don't count on us.'" Here Lina's voice fell into a deep Slavic singsong. "Don't count on us. Don't count on us." She paused dramatically. "We had T-shirts and posters. That was no small thing."

"'Don't count on us?'" said Bill. "I don't mean to sound skeptical, but as a political slogan, it seems, I know know, a little . . ." Lame. It lacked even the pouty energy and determination of "Hell no, we won't go." Perhaps some obscenity would have helped. "Don't fucking count on us, motherfucker." That would have been better. Certainly a better T-shirt.

The story moves forward, obviously, but Moore doesn't abandon the "Don't fucking count on us, motherfucker" sentiment. It makes its triumphant return nicely, subtly (as subtly as a sentence including a word like "motherfucker" can). Debbie has noticed things about Bill, things whose revelation he may have been trying to slow and stymie because of the power they possess to expose and embarrass him. He is exposed, though, Debbie exposes him in her hurt for the fact that he has remained detached, more interested in the idea of having an affair with Lina (which he has not in reality managed to have), [SPOILER (of sorts)] who it also is revealed is having an affair with his friend Albert. He knew this in some sense already, but there is a sluice gate's opening of reality to their affair when Debbie bluntly states it as fact. Still, he feels like it's too "hamhanded" and "literal" to be true, but then through the narrator it's said, "And yet wasn't reality always cheesy and unreliable just like that; wasn't fate literal in exactly that way?"

Their argument reaches what I consider it's shrillest pitch when finally Debbie says, "You're just not happy with your life." To which Bill responds, "I suppose I'm not." And with implied attribution to Bill the italicized words, Don't count on us. Don't count on us, motherfucker, tag after his confession, reintroducing the phrase with much potential meaning and a wholly new context. I liked that. I liked it a lot.

So read Lorrie Moore or be a sexist, is what I say.

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