Moore's females are both ageing and strengthening and so too is her literary talent.by Hannah Rosefield / February 20, 2014 / Leave a comment
Bark by Lorrie Moore (Faber, £16.99)
Since the 1980s, Lorrie Moore has been writing bleakly funny stories about clever, underachieving women with a liking for wordplay. They have unsatisfying relationships with men who love them too much but can’t appreciate a good pun, or who can manage the puns but not the love. Mothers loom large; so does terminal illness, usually cancer. Moore’s last collection, Birds of America, was bestselling as well as prizewinning, and elevated her to the first rank of American short story writers. This was over 15 years ago, which makes Bark something of an event—even if four of its eight stories have already been published, in 2008’s Collected Stories.
In “The Juniper Tree,” one of the oldest of the eight, it’s business as usual. Three women visit a friend who has just died of cancer, and been resurrected for one night only. One of the three recently suffered a massive stroke; the second lost her arm in a car crash. The third is dating a man about to leave her.
But there are changes, too. Moore’s characters are older and less itinerant than they once were. Divorce or the fear of divorce is ever-present, and the news— Iraq, elections, Michael Jackson’s death— exerts a new pressure. “I can’t live without some intimacy, companionship, whatever you want to call it, to face down this global craziness,” says one man, justifying a disastrous relationship. There’s a greater reserve to the stories, less linguistic showiness. But Moore retains the ability to surprise within the space of a few words: a simile, a sly aphorism, a moment of kindness or grace.