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Posts Tagged ‘Lorrie Moore’

Staff Picks: Staircases, Sister Mountains, Self-Help

November 21, 2014 | by

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A still from Staircase.

In The Program Era (2011), Mark McGurl illuminated postwar American fiction’s inextricable ties to universities and creative writing programs; his new paper, “The Institution of Nothing,” undertakes a reading of David Foster Wallace in the framework of “the program,” and it’s one of the most thoughtful exegeses I’ve found of Wallace, whose work has enjoyed no shortage of critical insight. (Remember Wyatt Mason on Oblivion?) McGurl finds that the bulk of Wallace’s writing is fixated on institutions—it invokes them as a kind of safe harbor, a respite from the nihilism of the world at large. (This is borne out not just in his books but in his life, which he spent almost entirely in the thrall of institutions of higher learning.) In this light, a certain unnerving conservatism emerges in his work: what should be questions of sweeping political import are recast as matters of individual ethics. McGurl writes, “Clinging to the institutional order, clinging for dear life, Wallace’s commitment is … to a conception of therapeutic community in which what might have become political questions—and, by implication, motives for political contestation—are obediently dissolved.” —Dan Piepenbring

Natalie Lyalin’s poetry collection Blood Makes Me Faint But I Go For It has a great title, but I’ve felt mildly daunted by the illustration on the cover—of a woman who stares straight into my eyes whenever I look at her. It turns out, though, that feelings of discomfort aren’t inappropriate. Her poems are weird, wide-eyed, and bold, and I feel uneasy reading them—but in a good way. “Aboard ships they snapped goodbye to their cities/They sparked like knives/And the oceans took them in with oceanic slurps/In a parallel moment we were on the beaches/Mute pastel puffs/Smoking around a cult-like fire.” They remind me of Karen Russell’s fiction: at once familiar and otherworldly, tame and frightening. Lyalin’s “A Lemon Sweat Over Everything” is almost a poetic version of the title story from Russell’s Vampire in the Lemon Grove:

You can find my bones in the sister mountains
Identify me by the gold fangs
The fangs I showed you in the lemon arc hard
almost two hundred years ago
You said they were sexy
The sun blinding you for my mouth
We were both smirking and then I snarled
It was very foreign
chasing you around the trees

Nicole Rudick

I could write about the addictive nature of Serial, the true-crime podcast from the This American Life team, but millions of others beat me to the punch. Instead, thanks to a recommendation from my friend Josh Lieberman, I advise you to fill these next two weeks until the next Serial episode with Sundance Channel’s eight-part documentary series, The Staircase. The crime saga follows the case of the novelist Michael Peterson, whose wife, Kathleen, was found unconscious at the bottom of a staircase in the couple’s Durham mansion. Was the death an accident, the result of falling down the stairs after consuming alcohol and Valium—or was she murdered by Peterson? While the twists and turns are captivating, and the series is filled with a cast of characters so interesting and bizarre it’s difficult to appraise anyone involved, it’s the fly-on-the wall style of Jean-Xavier de Lestrande’s filmmaking that kept me going from one episode to the next. —Justin Alvarez

You might have heard that Sam Lipsyte used to be in a punk band called Dungbeetle. This Saturday night at Le Poisson Rouge, they’re reuniting—with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy on drums, no less—as part of the launch party for Radio Silence, a lit-and-music mag that’s just released their third issue. I suspect magic will be in the air. Bring earplugs and a taste for the bizarre. —DP

I had never heard of Lorrie Moore when I tried to sit in on her MFA workshop at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It was 2009, and I was barely eighteen. She kicked me out pretty quickly. Now, having spent the better part of five years recovering from the embarrassment, I have finally read Self-Help (1985), Moore’s first collection of short stories. About two-thirds of the stories are in the second person, and this is both refreshing and compelling. It serves an almost didactic purpose in “How,” as Moore guides us, step-by-step, through the motions of dumping a (maybe) dying boyfriend. In “How to Be an Other Woman,” the second person puts a delightful twist on a recycled story—her protagonist struggles to find herself in (and as a result of) a messy extramarital affair. Witty and deft, Moore demands that her readers believe the story could be about them … not that it is about them, but that it could be. She blends comedy and tragedy so seamlessly that I found myself merrily caught between sadness and mirth, cynicism and optimism. —Alex Celia

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Lorrie Moore on Alice Munro

October 10, 2013 | by

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“Well, I have no relationship to her. I’ve never met her. And as for her work, I came to it too late probably for it even to have been an influence, which fills me with despair. I am merely a big fan. She is a great artist, alive and among us, and still writing as well as she did at the start—if not better, which is really saying something, since if you look again at Lives of Girls and Women, her first book, you will see it is a masterpiece, not like any other first book I can think of offhand. (You will also find in it many of the elements of Love of a Good Woman and other later fiction—the obsession with drowning, the allure and menace of men, the erotic moment as narrative pivot and the glimpses of wickedness that only the young are able to act upon to save themselves; the middle-aged must attempt to endure, make do, compromised and complicitous, with what they know.) Her later fiction is quite bold structurally—its handling of time is fearless and satisfying and not to be imitated. She seems over and over again to be writing a kind of ghost story. She is also witty and cruel (that is, unblinking) and painterly. Although she writes of the provinces, she is the least provincial writer I can think of. I’m not sure that this is always understood about her.” —Lorrie Moore, the Art of Fiction No. 167

 

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Story Time!

March 1, 2013 | by

Man-Megaphone-3We are delighted to report that our contributors are racking up all kinds of well-deserved honors!

First, David Means’s story “The Chair” (issue 200) has been chosen for this year’s Best American Short Stories anthology.

We also have seven nominees for this year’s Pushcart Prize:

  • Sarah Frisch, “Housebreaking,” issue 203

  • David Gordon, “Man-Boob Summer,” issue 202

  • Lorrie Moore, “Wings,” issue 200

  • Davy Rothbart, “Human Snowball,” issue 201

  • Sam Savage, “The Meininger Nude,” issue 202

  • David Searcy, “El Camino Doloroso,” issue 200

  • John Jeremiah Sullivan, “The Princes: A Reconstruction,” issue 200

    Congratulations, everyone!

     

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    Nimble Surrealism: Talking with Gabrielle Bell

    November 12, 2012 | by

    Whether delving into memorable personal stories or exemplifying a sort of nimble surrealism, Gabrielle Bell’s comics are harder to classify than one might think. Reading her work chronologically, one can find her range expanding from sharp day-to-day observations to forays into the surreal and magic realist. The title story of the collection Cecil and Jordan in New York follows a young woman who moves to the city and searches for an apartment and a purpose. It’s fairly kitchen sink in its realism, right up until the point where the protagonist matter-of-factly decides to become a chair. It’s a dose of deadpan absurdism that opens up the storytelling possibilities, and keeps the reader on their toes.

    The Voyeurs is Bell’s latest book, covering several years in her life, and taking her from promoting a film in Tokyo to finding a space for yoga in her Brooklyn apartment to San Diego for Comic-Con. Its introduction comes courtesy of Aaron Cometbus, whose long-running zine suggests certain parallels to Bell’s deftly autobiographical work. We met at a bar near Bell’s apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—a neighborhood that has provided the setting for much of her work.

    Lucky begins as a kind of slice-of-life documentation of your life. By the end of the first volume, though, it’s become less overtly realistic and more expressionistic. When did you make that leap?

    It was towards the end of writing Lucky, when I got to the point about Francophilia, when I talked about talking with Gerard Depardieu. That must have been the first time that I did that. Or maybe it was when I had this fantasy about being an art assistant, and the artist taking all my ideas. Read More »

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    Helen Simpson on ‘In-Flight Entertainment’

    February 28, 2012 | by

    Helen Simpson. Photo by Derek Thomson.

    I met Helen Simpson for a genial pub lunch near Dartmouth Park in North London on the day she received the American edition of In-Flight Entertainment: Stories. She was evidently quite pleased by the book’s spare but elegant design, which looks through an airplane window onto a locket of cerulean sky. I’m tempted to draw comparisons to her stories, many of which peek at other people’s blitheness, or cruelty, or dreams of escape. But nothing in Simpson’s fiction is quite as peaceful as that glimpse of blue. She is perhaps best known for the characterization of contemporary motherhood in her collections, but many of the stories in In-Flight Entertainment confront the prospect of climate change.

    Your collections are never quite themed, but they do feel very painstakingly designed. Was that true for In-Flight Entertainment?

    In-Flight Entertainment is my little climate-change suite, I suppose. But there are fifteen stories in it, and only five are about climate change. My only rule is to write about what’s interesting to me at the time. It’s a great subject, but it’s very hard to dramatize or to make particular, and not to hector, not to moralize.

    There are plenty of experts in these stories. There’s Jeremy in the title story as well as amateur researchers like Angelika in “The Tipping Point” and G in “Diary of an Interesting Year.” They don’t seem to benefit from their knowledge.

    Well, it alienates people from them. That’s the trouble. Did you ever watch that episode of The Simpsons shortly after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out?  It is spoofed as An Irritating Truth. It is an irritating truth and no one wants to hear someone sounding off about it, and particularly not when they’re about to go on holiday.

    Stories are good for uncomfortable things, for uncomfortable subjects. They’re not generally relaxing. Novels are more relaxing. You just give up to the novel, you go into its bath, you submit to it. You don’t with a story. You’re more alert as a reader, and more critical. If it doesn’t grab you by the second sentence, it’s done. Whereas with a novel, people will give it a couple of chapters before they abandon it. Read More »

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    Announcing Issue 200!

    February 27, 2012 | by

    It’s The Paris Review’s 200th issue, and that’s a big deal.

    As if two hundred volumes of fiction, poetry, belles-lettres, and iconic interviews weren’t reason enough to celebrate, this one is something special, including: fiction by Lorrie Moore, David Means, and Matt Sumell; poetry by Adrienne Rich, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, and Frederick Seidel; essays by David Searcy, Geoff Dyer, and John Jeremiah Sullivan; and literary paint chips by Leanne Shapton and Ben Schott.

    The Spring issue also contains a blockbuster interview with Bret Easton Ellis:

    American Psycho came out of a place of severe alienation and loneliness and self-loathing. I was pursuing a life—you could call it the Gentleman’s Quarterly way of living—that I knew was bullshit, and yet I couldn’t seem to help it. American Psycho is a book about becoming the man you feel you have to be, the man who is cool, slick, handsome, effortlessly moving through the world, modeling suits in Esquire, having babes on his arm … On the surface, like Patrick Bateman, I had everything a young man could possibly want to be ‘happy’ and yet I wasn’t.

    Plus, Maggie Paley’s interview with Terry Southern—in the works since 1967. Southern, asked what he would do with unlimited financial resources, replied:

    First I would engage a huge but clever and snakelike “Blowing Machine,” and I would have it loaded with one ton of dog hair each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It would be brought up East Seventy-second Street to the very end, where it would poise itself outside George Plimpton’s house like a great dragon. Then, exactly when Katherine the Char had finished one room, the powerful, darting snout of the machine would rise up to the third floor windows and send a terrific blast of dog hair into the room—a quarter ton per room. I would observe her reaction—I have friends opposite—with a spyglass, room by room. The entire place would be foot-deep in dog hair, most of which however has not yet settled and has the effect of an Arctic blizzard. Then I would drop in—casually, not really noticing her hysteria, or that anything at all was wrong, just sort of complaining in a vague way, occasionally brushing at my sleeve, et cetera, speaking with a kind of weary petulance: “Really, Katherine, I do think you might be more ... uh, well, I mean to say ...” voice trailing away, attention caught by something else, a picture on the wall: “I say, that is an amusing print—is it new?” fixing her with a deeply searching look, so there could be no doubt at all as to my interest in the print. If this didn’t snap her mind I would give her several hundred thousand dollars—all in pennies. “Mr. Plimpton asked me to give you this, Katherine—each coin represents the dark seed of his desire for you.”

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