Last week, LAPL notified me that, as per my request, they were holding a copy of Bark: stories by Lorrie Moore for me at the Silver Lake branch. “Who is Lorrie Moore?” I replied. Two pages into the first story I remembered: the woman who wrote the story about the girl freeloading her way through Africa, that ends, decades later, with her falling off the top of a skyscraper. “Oh, her.” Yes, her.
I don’t understand the title, but it doesn’t matter. The eight stories are all masterful astonishments. LM has the gift of writing about ordinary people in ordinary situations in a way that makes them breathlessly exciting. She has a variety of arrows in her quiver. Her descriptions are admirably clear and concise. She has an ear for dialogue. Without being pretentious, she hints at bigger issues: the first story takes place during the first Gulf War, and the last takes place just after Michael Jackson died. She can wrap things up with an ingeniously unexpected paragraph, as in “Wings,” the longest and most difficult of the stories. Difficult because it’s about two jerks: KC, a talentless singer-songwriter-performer, and her handsome, parasitic boyfriend Dench. She befriends an elderly neighbor, who changes his will to benefit her. It’s very Wings of the Dove (as in the title and opening epitaph), and the ending is suitably Jamesian: we get a glimpse of KC, comfortable in a new life of service and good works, nevertheless remembering the day, a lifetime ago, she first met Dench:
… she had wondered whether it would be good to love him, and then she had gone broodingly to the window to look out at the street while he was singing and she had seen a very young woman waiting for him in his beat-up car. It had been winter with winter’s sparse afternoon stars, and the girl was wearing a fleece chin-strap cap that made her look like Dante and also like a baby bird. KC herself had been dressed like Hooker Barbie. Why had she put this memory out of her mind? The young woman had clearly driven him there—would she be tossed away? bequeathed? forgotten? given a new purpose by God, whose persistent mad humor was aimless as a gnat? She was waiting for him to come back with something they could use.
I hadn’t realized it until I got home, but the upper right corner had been gnawed on the copy I borrowed from LAPL. A dog, apparently. Everyone’s a critic.