From "Thank You for Having Me"
The day following Michael Jackson’s death, I was constructing my own memorial for him. I played his videos on YouTube and sat in the kitchen at night, with the iPod light at the table’s center the only source of illumination. I listened to “Man in the Mirror” and “Ben,” my favorite, even if it was about a killer rat. I tried not to think about its being about a rat, as it was also the name of an old beau, who had e-mailed me from Istanbul upon hearing of Jackson’s death. Apparently there was no one in Turkey to talk about it with. “When I heard the news of MJackson’s death I thought of you,” the ex-beau had written, “and that sweet, loose-limbed dance you used to do to one of his up-tempo numbers.”
I tried to think positively. “Well, at least Whitney Houston didn’t die,” I said to someone on the phone. Every minute that ticked by in life contained very little information, until suddenly it contained too much.
“Mom, what are you doing?” asked my fifteen-year-old daughter, Nickie. “You look like a crazy lady sitting in the kitchen like this.”
“I’m just listening to some music.”
“But like this?”
“I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“You are so totally disturbing me,” she said.
Nickie had lately announced a desire to have her own reality show so that the world could see what she had to put up with.
I pulled out the earbuds. “What are you wearing tomorrow?”
“Whatever. I mean, does it matter?”
“Uh, no. Not really.” Nickie sauntered out of the room. Of course it did not matter what young people wore: they were already amazing looking, without really knowing it, which was also part of their beauty. I was going to be Nickie’s date at the wedding of Maria, her former babysitter, and Nickie was going to be mine. The person who needed to be careful what she wore was me.
It was a wedding in the country, a half-hour drive, and we arrived on time, but somehow we seemed the last ones there. Guests milled about semipurposefully. Maria, an attractive, restless Brazilian, was marrying a local farm boy, for the second time—a second farm boy on a second farm. The previous farm boy she had married, Ian, was present as well. He had been hired to play music, and as the guests floated by with their plastic cups of wine, Ian sat there playing a slow melancholic version of “I Want You Back.” Except he didn’t seem to want her back. He was smiling and nodding at everyone and seemed happy to be part of this send-off. He was the entertainment. He wore a T-shirt that read, thank you for having me. This seemed remarkably sanguine and useful as well as a little beautiful. I wondered how it was done. I myself had never done anything remotely similar. “Marriage is one long conversation,” wrote Robert Louis Stevenson. Of course, he died when he was forty-four, so he had no idea how long the conversation could really get to be.
“I can’t believe you wore that,” Nickie whispered to me in her mauve eyelet sundress.
“I know. It probably was a mistake.” I was wearing a synthetic leopard-print sheath: I admired camouflage. A leopard’s markings I’d imagined existed because a leopard’s habitat had once been alive with snakes, and blending in was required. Leopards were frightened of snakes and also of chimpanzees, who were in turn frightened of leopards—a standoff between predator and prey, since there was a confusion as to which was which: this was also a theme in the wilds of my closet. Perhaps I had watched too many nature documentaries.
“Maybe you could get Ian some lemonade,” I said to Nickie. I had already grabbed some wine from a passing black plastic tray.
“Yes, maybe I could,” she said and loped across the yard. I watched her broad tan back and her confident gait. She was a gorgeous giantess. I was in awe to have such a daughter. Also in fear—as in fearful for my life.
“It’s good you and Maria have stayed friends,” I said to Ian. Ian’s father, who had one of those embarrassing father-in-law crushes on his son’s departing wife, was not taking it so well. One could see him misty-eyed, treading the edge of the property with some iced gin, keeping his eye out for Maria, waiting for her to come out of the house, waiting for an opening, when she might be free of others, so he could rush up and embrace her.
“Yes.” Ian smiled. Ian sighed. And for a fleeting moment everything felt completely fucked up.
Excerpted from Bark by Lorrie Moore. Copyright © 2014 by Lorrie Moore. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Lorrie Moore, after many years as a professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is now Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Moore has received honors for her work, among them the Irish Times International Prize for Literature and a Lannan Foundation fellowship, as well as the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award for her achievement in the short story. Her most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs, was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction and for the PEN/Faulkner Award.
Praise for Lorrie Moore’s
“When Moore opens her sentences out, as she is able to do whenever the rhythm or emotional pitch of a tale demands it, one realizes just how much she is able to encompass, and how tenderly she renders the passage of time. A single Moore sentence can span lives…Even as Moore tells us precisely what we don’t want to hear, she does so in a voice we can’t stop listening to. Moore does not make us feel better; she hurts us. But she hurts us in vital, generous ways, and it is testament to the brilliance of her writing that we let her.”
-Sam Byers, Times Literary Supplement
"Reading the luminous stories in Lorrie Moore's collection is like spending another insanely perfect afternoon with your smartest, most acerbic, tough-minded but loving and loyal friend. Moore is that necessary writer who brilliantly observes the dead-on sorrow and hilarity of our day-to-day. But she's not out to glibly poke fun (though you'll laugh out loud and urgently read sentences to friends) or to glorify gloom; instead, in each of these eight stories, her characters—flawed, middle-aged, divorced, divorcing—are loath to entirely give up.”
--Victoria Redel, MORE magazine
“[A] powerful collection about the difficulty of letting love go.”
-Heller McAlpin, Washington Post
“Moore is not only a brilliant noticer. She is also brilliant at noticing those things that ‘one was supposed not to notice,’ namely our seemingly limitless cruelty, apathy, and violence…The initial surprise of Moore’s effervescent, jarring stories ultimately yields to a response that, far from mystification, is its mirror opposite: enlightenment.”
-Nathaniel Rich, The Atlantic
“Melancholy and funny…Lorrie Moore is real. Her stories are poignant, and they tackle the things you try not to think about, but with real lightness, so the realness isn’t abjectly depressing.”
“Short fiction master Lorrie Moore’s new volume of stories registers a dark, quirky take on the new-millennial zeitgeist…Moore’s unsparing insights, coupled with her laserlike wit, beam through in ways that surprise, shock, sadden, and cajole on every page...Moore’s wacky, lovable, light-seeking characters move like skittish deer from the safety of the woods to open fields where dangers lurk but life’s saving wonders also reside: a silly joke, a good book, a glass of wine, a favorite song, a shared meal, a sudden kiss.”
-Lisa Shea, Elle
“After all these years, Lorrie Moore still dazzles…For all their genuine sadness and existential angst, these powerfully, almost savagely, human stories shine with a spirit of playfulness and the logic of love…Moore interweaves public failures with individual, private ones to create a seamless tragicomic fabric and reminds us that laughing is sometimes like choking, which is a lot like crying.”
-Bonnie Jo Campbell, O: Oprah Magazine
“No admirer of Moore’s will go away either overloaded or unsatisfied, and the book lets us contemplate and savor just what makes her work unique…Moore didn’t invent the breed, but she may be the chief contemporary chronicler of those whose dread makes them unable to turn off the laugh machine. It’s commonplace to call Moore ‘funny,’ but that’s not quite right. P. G. Wodehouse is funny. Moore is an anatomist of funny…In a world according to Moore—the ‘planet of the apings,’ as one character thinks of it—who could ask for more?”
-David Gates, New York Times Book Review
“Gaunt, splendid…What an irresistible bunch of characters she conjures up…We still need Lorrie Moore to work hard at making us laugh, to remind us that we’re frauds, we’re all just acting. To unzip words for us and let their sounds and meanings and pun potentialities jingle out like coins. To point out the silver linings…She never lies to us. She never tells us the water’s fine. She says, Dive in anyway, “swim among the dying” while you can. Learn how to suffer in style.”
-Parul Seghal, Bookforum
“The short form is her true forte. Her talent is best exhibited in the collection’s longest stories (each around 40 pages); her comfort with that length is indicated by her careful avoidance of overplotting, which, of course, dulls the effect of an expansive short story, and by not allowing the stories to seem like the outlines of novels that never got developed.”
-Booklist (Starred Review)
“One of the best short story writers in America resumes her remarkable balancing act, with a collection that is both hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes in the same paragraph…In stories both dark and wry, Moore wields a scalpel with surgical precision.”
-Kirkus (Starred Review)
“These stories are laugh-out-loud funny, as well as full of pithy commentary on contemporary life and politics.”
-Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Moore once again brings her acute intelligence and wit to play….The language has a fizzy rhythm that will have the reader turning the pages. Smart, funny, and overlaid with surprising metaphor…Highly recommended.”
-Library Journal (Starred Review)
1. What is the metaphor of the title? How do the epigraphs help to set it up?
2. The stories share several themes, among them aging and the passage of time, parents and children, divorce and separation. What would you say is the primary theme of the collection?
3. Several of the story titles have multiple meanings. How does Moore’s wordplay keep the reader guessing?
4. The dialogue in Moore’s stories is often funny. Would you call the stories themselves humorous?
5. Real-life current events cast shadows over several of the stories. How does Moore use them to shape a deeper meaning?
6. In “Debarking,” when Zora tells Ira, “Every family is a family of alligators,” (p. 15), how does this foreshadow what’s to come?
7. Ira reads a poem in Bekka’s journal: “Time moving. / Time standing still. / What is the difference? / Time standing still is the difference” (p. 31). He has no idea what it means, but he knows that it’s awesome. What do you think the poem means?
8. Why do you think Moore titled the story following “Debarking” “The Juniper Tree”?
9. This second story has a dreamlike quality. Do you think Moore expects the reader to accept it as realistic?
10. In “Paper Losses,” Kit asserts: “A woman had to choose her own particular unhappiness carefully. That was the only happiness in life: to choose the best unhappiness” (p. 68). What do you think of this notion?
11. What point is Moore making in “Foes”?
12. What is the metaphor of the “rat king” sequence (p. 140) in “Wings”?
13. In “Subject to Search,” Tom says that cruelty comes naturally to everyone (p. 166). Do you agree? Does that assertion prove true in Moore’s stories?
14. “Thank You for Having Me” draws a clear connection between weddings and funerals, marriage and death. What connections have you seen in your own experience?
15. On page 184, Moore writes, “Maria was a narrative girl and the story had to be spellbinding or she lost interest in the main character, who was sometimes herself and sometimes not.” Which other characters in the collection could be described in this way?
16. Which of Moore’s characters would you most like to meet again?