‘Bark’ by Lorrie Moore

‘Bark’ by Lorrie Moore (2014) – 192 pages

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Sincerity is something a lot of writers can do.  In fact the writing world is drowning in sincerity.  That is why I appreciate Lorrie Moore who interrupts her stories with edgy silly jokes.  Take this line about a woman singer who was booed by her audience.

 “Despised especially were her hip-hop renditions of Billy Joel and Neil Young (she was once asked to sing down by the river, and she thought they’d meant the song).”    

 But sharp humor is a young person’s game.  As time goes on, life gets all too serious, sometimes even desolate.    There are illnesses, failed relationships, divorce, bad jobs, severe recessions, unnecessary wars, despicable politicians, deaths of loved ones.  How does one keep a sense of humor?

Lorrie Moore made her name with sharp stories containing wicked sardonic humor.  In ‘Bark’ the humor is still there, but the stories also deal with the calamities listed above.  This is a high wire act, combining jokes with despair, and sometimes Moore does not fall.

 “ ‘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.”

However sometimes things get disjointed.  My example is the first story in this collection, a long story called ‘Debarking’.  Ira has been divorced for six months and is rather desperate for a relationship.  He gets involved with a woman named Zora who is a friend of a friend.  It turns out Zora has a fifteen year old son Bruny whom she is constantly nudging, wrestling, and physically teasing. Soon Ira realizes that Zora ‘might not be all that mentally well’. This story is played mostly for laughs but could easily go the other way.  I applaud Moore for putting such unusual characters and situations in her stories.    

Throughout this collection there is a mixture of laughter and sadness, and sometimes they go together uneasily. 

 “A woman had to choose her own particular unhappiness carefully.”

Sometimes it feels like Moore is trying to accomplish too much with each story including social satire, political commentary, humor, emotion, and poignancy.  That probably is better than attempting too little. 

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