Self-Help by Lorrie Moore

self-help by lorrie mooreSelf-Help by Lorrie Moore is a collection of nine short stories originally published in 1985. This review considers the kindle version of Vintage Contemporaries from 2007.
Striking in five of these stories (How to be an Other Woman, The Kid’s Guide to Divorce, How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes), Amdahl and the Night Visitors: A Guide to the Tenor of Love, How to Become a Writer) is the author’s use of imperative mood in narration. “Meet in expensive raincoats, on a pea-soupy night.” “First, try to be something, anything, else.” The effect is to turn the reader into ‘you’ and the narrator into an unnamed instructor, like the voice in a cookbook. “In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water, and then stir in the yeast.” This little-used (outside of cookbooks) corner of English grammar makes a surprisingly sturdy and versatile framework for these narratives, and lends an aura of lovingly crafted guidance to the entire collection (hence the collection title, Self-Help, I presume). This narrative style suggests life is shaped by influences over which characters (and, by extrapolation, we) have little control, reminiscent of the Naturalism literary movement from the late 1800’s (but extending its fingers, as literary movements do, into everything that follows). I’m reminded in particular of de Maupassant and Zola. Like de Maupassant, Moore’s stories often have clever plot lines with poignant twists and turns. This narrative-via-imperative style also suggests the narrator is charting a path she traveled before and so laces these stories with a profound sincerity. Add to that Lorrie Moore’s virtuosity with language (especially dialog) and you have a recipe for delightful reading. This is a book I’ll read again.
I won’t attempt to out-hurrah other reviewers of this work. “The most astute and lasting writer of her generation (New York Times Book Review), “America’s most wry and radiant comic writer…” (Harper’s Bazaar), “Lorrie Moore’s stories are dazzling exercises in an ingenious wisdom,” (New Statesman). Suffice it to say this is writing at its best, destined to join other literary accomplishments of the first order.

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