A writer’s writer, they say, but that’s because Lorrie Moore usually writes short stories that make it seem possible to do anything with that form. She’s never really made the big time, possibly because of her relatively slow output but mainly because publishers like putting their promotional clout behind novels. If you want a one-line description, she’s the writer Anne Tyler would be if Anne Tyler were as good as the critics all claim. Most of the time, when anyone asks anyone other than me which writer she most resembles, critics say John Updike. I have to admit, I don’t like Updike. I admire his short stories immensely but his novels leave me wondering why no editor was brave enough to say ‘do this again’. Moore is an exquisite short-story writer but, unlike Updike, hasn’t acted as if novels are the real thing and short stories a sideline. She’s written three novels to date; this is the second and the most recent, A Gate At The Stairs was fairly popular. I think this is her most accomplished long-form work. (Judge for yourself: we’ve got both of them).
It’s outwardly straightforward; an American woman lives in Paris and doesn’t entirely like her husband’s friends. Her best friend was someone she worked with at a tacky theme-park when she was 15 in the early 70s. Storyland, the grim amusement-park, has characters and settings from old tales but all out of context and without any actual story. Paris, on the other hand, has a story it tells about itself but no place for inconvenient details. Her own story, how she got from one to the other, is the only thread keeping her sense of herself coherent.
This makes it sound horribly worthy and Proust-like (something the narrator slyly acknowledges) but it’s Lorrie Moore, so there are belting one-liners and moments of genuine pain and remorse, sardonic insights and an ease about the writing that makes all the knotty subject-matter flow readably.
This is the novel where she outgrew her former writing tutor, Alison Lurie. (Moore has a new book coming out in March, which will probably be reviewed everywhere. This could be your chance to impress your friends with an opinion on the topic.)
By Tat Wood