How to write like Lorrie Moore: Engage in constant wordplay; puns are a plus. Create terribly depressing scenarios fraught with illness, infidelity, and insecurities. Don’t just tell a poignant story-- be clever about it.
I’ve reviewed Lorrie’s work in the past: her first novel, Anagrams, and her second novel, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Self-Help*, a collection of nine short stories, is her first published work, and the bulk of the stories come from her master’s thesis. I guess theses are good for something after all.
Self-Help uses a unique medium to express Lorrie’s characteristic self-deprecating humor: it’s a how to screw up manual.
“How to Be an Other Woman” tells a tale of a mistress using “how-to” speech. “The Kid’s Guide to Divorce” describes how to take advantage of a newly single mom while also trying to bond. Goal: get your hands on as much soda as possible. “How to Become a Writer” is really a guide to withstanding failures. In each, she gives step-by-step advice on how to endure something murky and non-ideal; yet, her advice is embedded in fictional stories with a narrative arc and empathetic characters.
Did I say empathetic? I also mean pathetic. Her characters can be very pathetic. She drowns them slowly, with no access to a lifejacket. For the record, both Rose and Jack could have fit on that life raft.
Lorrie has a distinctive voice that remains consistent throughout each of her pieces. If you’ve read one of her stories and loved it, you’ll love the others, and vice versa. She’s wonderfully talented but she gets old. The tone remains the same—and she dons it well, but at some point you need to get a new outfit. Self-Help receives 4 out of 5 camel humps.
*Moore, Lorrie. Self-Help. New York: Warner Books, 1985. Print.