My first experience with Lorrie Moore was when I took a class my freshman year of college with a professor who was obsessed with writers like Updike and Cheever, whose stories ran like clockwork. He assigned us “You’re Ugly Too,” which in comparison with the above felt like raucous free-associative stand-up comedy — it was the first thing I’d enjoyed reading all semester. I was excited to discuss it, but it turned out he wanted to use it as an object lesson in what *not* to do in fiction.
So even though I haven’t read Moore in years, nor do I exactly consider myself a fan, it’s fair to say I approached this likely takedown with murder in my heart. I really loved this essay, though. Most reviews of brand-new releases follow the same format: summary, praise/criticism, and maybe at the end a caveat or some additional context. It’s rare that we talk about the writers the way we (or at least I) usually encounter them, as other human beings who are trying to communicate with us, despite the perhaps unbridgeable gaps between our experiences, influences, and perspectives. And taking a look at older books, figuring in how they’ve aged, adds another wrinkle to this, since literature is by its nature supposed to be the news that stays news, but the meaning of that news is inevitably going to change with the times, regardless of the author’s intention. I’m looking forward to more pieces in this series.