Saturday, August 14, 2010

More Lorrie Moore with "Self-Help"

I don't know if Anis Shivani would lump Lorrie Moore in the category of writers like Denis Johnson and Lydia Davis -- writers who he says university writing students are trained to like because they're easily "imitable" -- but Moore does teach at a university, so maybe. Whatever, it's no matter. I will say no more about Shivani's views for the time being. The previous post exhausted that topic to the extent that I am interested in it.

Lorrie Moore, meanwhile, remains an interesting subject -- one whom I only came upon earlier this year thanks to a friend's tip. She is a very unusual writer, and for that she is frequently polarizing, inasmuch as her career trajectory has disappointed quite a few people to this point while others have found her departure from the abstraction of her first story collections refreshing. I might be counted in the latter group, but I also find merit to Dan Green's arguments in the middle of the three links above.

Green notes, in effect, that all of the uniqueness that defined Moore's initial efforts has slowly been lost to traditional narratives, which she might have succumbed to for any number of reasons. One is that she's become, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, too immersed in the academic realm of MFAs and the sort of fiction writing / reading encouraged in that milieu. Green notes that things have been lost in her style. And they have been, but I think crucial things have stayed the same.

Her humor is still sharp, as I see it. It's all her own, too. A really great wit defines the ironic turns of her characters' narration. And to depart from Green a little further, I found a friend of mine was correct when she complained "Self-Help" is best likened to candy that's too sweet or a really rich desert. The second-person, instructive narration is good in small doses but, in my humble opinion, becomes the bad sort of gimmick by the end. (Quick aside about gimmickry so called in fiction: I've always felt what separates a gimmick from a narrative device is the subjectivity of the reader -- BUT -- with respect to the subjectivity of this reader (i.e. me) -- one sure fire way to fall to gimmickry is to belabor it, whatever it is, for the length of almost an entire collection of stories.)

What's my point: well, that's a little to a lot of what "Self-Help" is. Don't get me wrong. It is good, but too much good stuff, as I've said before about other things. In this case, "too much good stuff" is a bad thing. I felt overloaded and overburdened by it to the point that it took me away from the narrative too greatly. Call me lame, but that's one of the things I enjoy about Moore's newer fiction I've read.

Read it for yourself, though, and enjoy or don't as the case may be, surely. Just don't call me "Surely." -- and yes I'm aware this "Airplane!" joke is a pun of the name "Shirley" (when spoken aloud, you see, one cannot distinguish very easily between the adverb and the proper noun) -- but what you forget is that that joke isn't funny and neither is mine.

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