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Be Amazed, Be Very Amazed: Listen to Lorrie Moore

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Benjamin Chambers writes:

Don’t miss two goddesses of contemporary fiction in this month’s New Yorker fiction podcast: the incomparable Louise Erdrich reads Lorrie Moore’s “Dance in America.” You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Honest.


I just listened to it, too! Harmonic convergence. Yeah, isn’t it wonderful? It made me think of how, when Moore’s story “People Like That Are the Only People Here” was published in 1997, every time I saw friends, someone would say “Oh my God, the Lorrie Moore story.” I would say “I know. I know.” It’s hard to reread, it hurts so much. “Dance in America” complements it in several ways.

Deborah Treisman, who hosts the fiction podcast, introduced Moore at the New Yorker Festival in 2005, and I jotted down a few quotes for Beatrice. Treisman and Erdrich’s conversation on the new podcast is a terrific example of how good these fiction conversations are; I definitely recommend another recent edition, in which Jonathan Lethem reads James Thurber’s The Wood Duck,” too.

The quotes on Beatrice are priceless; thanks for sharing. I’ve been a Lorrie Moore fan ever since her story, “How to Become a Writer,” appeared in the NYT and was given to me by a well-meaning relative. She started out great; and she only gets better. “People Like That” is an absolutely killer story, agreed: when it came out, everybody talked about it where I was, too. In fact, I was thinking about doing a post on her soon. Problem is, she’s so much easier to quote than to talk about.

I was disappointed by “The Wood Duck” conversation, because the story was too much of a blank wall, and Lethem didn’t convince me that it merited such close attention. Still, I’m not a fan of Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” either, but I really enjoyed the discussion about it. Somehow, T.C. Boyle carried me along on his enthusiasm (although somebody should’ve mentioned the debt Wolff owed to Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”). Still, I agree that the fiction podcasts are generally outstanding.

I just listened to it; it certainly is marvelous. I won’t soon forget that raccoon story.

Confession: I had the song “This Is It” on my iPod, so I just dialed it up right afterward.

I like how Moore’s use of Kenny Loggins conforms to Chekhov’s rule about the dramatic deployment of a gun. I think aspiring writers everywhere should heed this example when experimenting with the use of Yacht Rock personalities in their fiction.

I should’ve known you’d work Yacht Rock into it somehow, Martin!

Surely anticipating the Ph.D. dissertation….

My first introduction to Lorrie Moore was also through “How to Become a Writer” which I found absolutely hilarious. I’ll definitely have to pick up some more of her writing next time I go to Barnes and Nobles.

I agree that the Wood Duck discussion provided little insight for me, but I loved Bullet in the Brain. I listened to the podcast, read the story in print, and watched the short film.

I think you’ll find more Moore a good thing. Her first collection, Self-Help, is full of pieces like “How to Become a Writer,” so if you like it, you should enjoy the collection. Her later collections get more complex and (if possible) sadder, but they don’t lose the wit. I’ve always been partial to Moore’s Anagrams, in which the characters’ names and situations in each story morph slightly from story to story (they are, you see, “anagrams” of each other); one of the most interesting approaches to working through a set of related stories I’ve ever seen. But then, I sometimes have a weakness for meta-fictional devices.

I, too, really enjoyed T.C. Boyle’s reading and discussion of Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain,” which was all the more surprising because I was prepared not to. What I’ve read of Boyle’s work doesn’t impress me at all, but it’s clear in the podcast he’s a sympathetic reader of the best kind, and probably an excellent teacher.

“Bullet in the Brain,” has always irritated me because it’s a complete rip-off of Ambrose Bierce’s very famous story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, in which the main action of the story takes place during the last moments of consciousness of a man being hung as a spy. It troubles me that neither Deborah Treisman nor Boyle mention it as an obvious model.

Wolff’s story is excellently made, as most of his stories are, but it’s thin, and the mental journey of the critic-aesthete back to moments of pleasure unmarred by a need to be above it all is weakened, I think, by his very cartoonishness as an adult. It’s a high-concept short story, in which the characters (there’s only two, really) never become more than ideas slammed around by the author.

Yet as I said, I found Boyle’s reading and the discussion of the story highly enjoyable nonetheless. Go figure.

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