Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lorrie Moore's writing broke my heart, in a bad way.

I've long been a fan of Lorrie Moore's short stories. If you haven't had the opportunity to read her work, I'd recommend it. She's funny, smart and cynical, which are my three favorite adjectives. Also, she often writes stories about interesting female protagonists of the funny, smart, and cynical variety.

If you're interested in podcasts and the like, you can listen to Louise Erdrich and New Yorker fiction editor, Deborah Treisman read and discuss a Lorrie Moore story here.

So, I was greatly disappointed when I read her novella, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, which I found largely whiny and flat. Lorrie Moore is an author whose voice I identify with so strongly and whose characters I often wish were real people so I could befriend/think I'm already friends with. Because of this (unhealthy) relationship I have to her work, I felt strangely betrayed by this novella.

Readers, have you had this experience with an author? Please share!


Margo said...

I kind of have this same issue with TC Boyle. I love, love, love his short fiction, but have yet to read a novel of his that I like - they seem overwrought and tedious in comparison to lively inspiring writing in his short stories. I was thinking this was a short story writer issue, but recently I read Jumpha Lahiri's novel, Unaccustomed Earth and I found it to be almost as good as her collection, Interpreter of Maladies. I do though think that some short story writers aren't meant to be novelist. I found this same issue with Moore as you! Sorry so late, just came across your blog and couldn't resist )

Paul said...

I have rather strong feelings about Lorrie Moore myself. I've been reading her since 1986 and have met her. Her writing has the capacity to reach you at a deep level, but is also trite and artificial much of the time.

Currently I have two principal observations on the origins of problems that I perceive with Moore's writings. First, the entire concept of the academic teaching of creative writing is a crock. Moore has been participating in it for twenty-five years, and clearly it provides the wrong sorts of incentives. In some ways she is little different from a corporate employee who only has to show up at classes, meetings, etc., and publish and promote occasionally, in order to draw a fat paycheck with excellent benefits, supplemented by paid speaking engagements and royalties. When I think of some of my favorite writers (George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Flaubert, Dostoevsky), it is difficult to imagine them producing good work as hacks of academe, to borrow Gore Vidal’s phrase. Clearly Moore has never been placed in front of a firing squad.

A second observation has to do with Moore’s personal characteristics. In her speech at the 2009 BookExpo America, she came across as a hungover Martha Stewart who had an axe to grind about a bad divorce. However villainous her ex-husband may have been, I don’t think she chose the right forum for venting. To me, this represents an unfounded self-righteousness that is common among aging female upper-middle-class baby boomers who have developed monstrous senses of entitlement over the years. Similar traces of resentment and whininess can be found in many of her writings, and they don’t create a picture of a person who understands the world well or who has come to terms with things that a wise person ought to have by age fifty-two. Of course, this is also a public persona that she’s developed, but I don’t think it’s a good one. There is an ideological strain in her work, and I think we’ve all learned from the Bush administration that ideology has its limits.