Misha's Reviews > Self-Help

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
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Oct 19, 09

bookshelves: 2009, short-stories

I'm having a hard time finding something to say about this collection except that I loved it. I'll soon be picking up Like Life, I think, as well as trying to learn more about Moore herself. I'm curious to know how autobiographical her writing is, because the emotions in each story just ring so true. Of course, that's what a good writer does -- taps into the commonality of human experience and shows us that we are not alone.

I really enjoyed the way Moore played with tense and point of view to tell stories, switching between past and present tense, first and second POV. And, of course, the puns. These stories are packed tightly with wit and sentiment and tenderness and tragedy and pathos and just about everything that I love in literature.


Sept. 21, 2009. Today is the kind of day that I needed a break from the office by lunchtime, so I wandered to my usual bookstore before grabbing Chinese at the restaurant around the corner from there. The waitress kept calling me Angel. "Here you go, Angel," she said as she handed me a plate of cashew chicken. It netted her a $2 tip on a $5 lunch.

While waiting, I read "How to Talk to Your Mother," chosen not at random but because I had one of those obligatory phone conversations with my mother yesterday after more than a year of contact only through e-mail and the occasional message. I try to call. She isn't home. I leave a message. Maybe she responds, maybe she doesn't. This is how we passed Thanksgiving, my birthday, Christmas, mother's day, her birthday. I got a check in the mail around Dec. 20 — no card, just "Merry Christmas" written on the memo line. It isn't so much that we have a contentious relationship as a non-existent one, but I don't think she's aware there's a problem, and any attempts in the past on my part to discuss things has resulted in my mother breaking down into hysterical tears and accusing me of accusing her of being a bad mother.

So yesterday I finally caught up with her on the phone, doing my duty as a good daughter to at least try to keep lines of communication open. It went as our conversations nearly always do — she talks about her job, her house, her latest online boyfriend (she now has one who has moved in and sounds rather shiftless). She makes a pretense of asking about my life, but when I try to tell her, I'm met with an absent-minded "Uh huh" before the moves on to tell me some pointless anecdote about one of her co-workers. This time I actually got in a good minute of talking about my own plans before she interjected with "Why don't you just come home. I want you home." To which I simply couldn't think of anything to say, or at least nothing diplomatic. It occurred to me to ask "Why?" or to tell her "Ohio isn't home. It's just where I'm from." Or to say I didn't feel like moving back 2,300 miles to make our relationship more convenient, when she doesn't even try to stay in touch with me here. I think I said something vague like, "We'll have to see how things go."

Which has nothing at all to do with Moore's story, which recounts the life of a mother and daughter in a series of quick flashes, each representing a year counted down in reverse to the daughter's birth. It's a rich story for its compactness, but then parent-child relationships are never simple things.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by D. (last edited Sep 21, 2009 04:15PM) (new)

D. Pow well, I know it's not a review but I liked it!

message 2: by Misha (last edited Sep 21, 2009 04:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Misha Thanks! My reviews are rarely reviews in the traditional sense. They're far more often about how I relate to the book on a personal level. Goodreads is like my journal, but public.

message 3: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim I absolutely adore Lorrie Moore, Misha... She often evokes these type of journalish musings in me. So does Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life-- which I will never stop recommending to people.

Misha For what it's worth, Kim, even the Twilight series prompts journalish musings from me.


But I think I'm going to love Moore. Her writing sings. I wish I could say something more thoughtful about it. Perhaps by the time I finish the collection I'll come up with something insightful.

I'll consider Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, although I tend to shy away from memoir in general. There's not a whole lot of difference between memoir and most literary fiction, I think. Both blur the lines between life and story, but is it somehow a little more honest to hang the fiction label on a work that draws from both life and imagination? Describing a work as fiction is an acknowledgment that even though based in life, there will always be parts that are altered or made up, and what memoir doesn't fudge the facts at least a little? I suppose the reverse argument could be made, that calling it memoir is more honest because that description acknowledges that the story sprang from real experiences and not pure imagination. Whatever the reason, I tend to gravitate toward fiction.

I need more coffee.

Magda I like both your not review review and the book and agree with your impression: stories are amazing. I also want to know more about the author and it doesnt happen very often to me.

Misha Thanks, Magda. Welcome to Goodreads! I like Lorrie Moore a lot. I have vague fantasies about pursuing an MFA in creative writing at the university where she teaches just for the chance to study writing with her.

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