This sample Lorrie Moore Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Lorrie Moore’s short stories are poignant reflections of the human spirit on trial. Alternately hilarious and distressing, Moore’s short fiction generally presents a sharp and cynical view of modern existence that often seems like autobiographical reflections on the world of a middle-class woman. Throughout her work a dark humor pervades, lightening the painful plots and charming the reader with wit and irony. Moore’s painful yet believable reflections of contemporary existence have gained her a rightful place among writers of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Moore was born on January 13, 1957, in Glens Falls, New York. Both her father, Henry T. Moore Jr., an insurance company executive who came from a family of academics, and her mother, Jeanne (Day) Moore, a former nurse, were avid readers of nonfiction. Moore was the second of four children and, as Don Lee notes in Ploughshares, she ”remembers her parents as rather strict Protestants, politically minded and culturally alert.” She was first published in 1976 at the age of nineteen, as the first-prize winner in a Seventeen Magazine writing contest, which she won with her story ”Raspberries.” After high school Moore went on to complete her undergraduate work, studying writing at St. Lawrence University in northern New York State. At St. Lawrence, Moore studied creative writing with critic and fiction writer Joe David Bellamy, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated summa cum laude in 1978. After graduating Moore moved to Manhattan, where she worked as a paralegal until 1980.
Graduate School and Success
In 1980 she was accepted into the MFA program at Cornell University. At Cornell she studied with Alison Lurie, who was instrumental in getting Moore’s first collection published. In 1982 she received her MFA and became a member of the Associated Writing Programs and the Authors Guild. Moore worked as a lecturer at Cornell from 1982 to 1984 and taught there again in 1990 as a visiting associate professor. In 1983 Moore sold to Knopf her first collection, Self-Help (1985), made up almost completely of stories from her master’s thesis. In 1984 Moore became an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, where she subsequently became an associate professor in 1987 and finally a full professor of English in 1991.
Throughout her career Moore has alternated genres, with novels generally following her collections of short stories. She tends to take long periods of time between books due to the time-consuming activities of her ”real” life. Often these real-life events become fodder for her fiction. ”People Like That Are the Only People Here,” from her acclaimed story collection Birds of America (1998) revolves around her fictionalized struggles with her son’s illness. The story won the o. Henry Award in 1998 for best short story. Moore continues to teach at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and has a new novel coming out in 2009.
Works in Literary Context
Moore’s reflections of life, seemingly confessional, appear as intimate views of real people. This quality, perhaps, is what often leads critics to assume that Moore’s stories are autobiographical, an assumption Moore herself has strenuously denied. The major themes of Moore’s work center around the trials of contemporary existence—love, loss, loneliness—and often reveal profound psychological implications. As Vince Passaro points out in Mirabella: ”Certain themes and situations recur: Moore tends toward heroines in their child bearing years, often enduring an erosion of physical health, loneliness, and an exasperation at men and men’s stupid vanities.”
Moore’s fiction has much in common with other writers of her generation, such as Amy Hempel and Deborah Eisenberg. As her work in short fiction evolves, it has moved away from the gimmicky, yet highly amusing, stylistic devices of Self-Help and toward a more profound exploration of the psychology of the characters she creates. Certain themes, however, have remained constant: failing relationships and communication breakdowns, the pain of loss compounded by the physical pain of disease, the frustration and guilt of feeling trapped in a relationship, loneliness and the human need for—yet resistance to—real intimacy.
Physical breakdowns that parallel inner turmoil frequently occur in Moore’s work, physicalizing the emotional pain and compounding the trauma. In ”What Is Seized” bodily and emotional loss are viciously combined in the mother’s life as she loses her husband to divorce and her breasts to cancer. Daughter Lynnie emphasizes this combination in her narration: ”Both things happened suddenly, quietly, without announcement. As if some strange wind rushed in and swept things up into it, then quickly rushed out again; it simply left what it left.”
Disease and the pain and potential role reversals they bring are common themes in these early stories. The physical breakdown often becomes an embodiment of emotional trauma. After the father’s departure the divisions between the interspersed photos and letters and the time line become less clearly defined, and the reader is instead presented with a series of pictures here of mothers and daughters switching places—women switching places to take care of one another.” The title What Is Seized” reflects both the things that Lynnie observes her mother losing but also the loss of her mother, whose funeral is depicted in the final moments of the story. In this story, abandonment becomes a theme of Lynnie’s mother’s life, but such loneliness and neediness are not reserved only for women in Moore’s fiction.
Often Moore’s characters operate in settings that isolate them, whether in an urban center or tucked away in a monotonous suburb. The vast majority of her protagonists are female, and thus her stories wrestle with issues that are particularly poignant for contemporary women: divorce, love affairs, motherhood, and illness. Throughout her work sadness exists in a tense duality with humor, each offsetting and intensifying the other.
Works in Critical Context
Lorrie Moore’s artful short fiction depicts the pitfalls of modern existence. Throughout, a darkly witty sense of humor pervades the often desperate lives of her characters. Much of the criticism of Moore’s work has focused on this humor, described variously as wry” and apt.” However, as Ralph Sassone points out in his article This Side of Parody: Lorrie Moore Gets Serious,” her use of humor produces dramatic effects:
Although a cursory reading of her work might make it seem coolly satirical, its aftereffect is the memory of palpable pain…. Funniness is simultaneously a leavening agent for her wrenching narratives . . . and a distancing device that perpetuates [her characters’] alienation.
It is also sometimes suggested that because Moore’s works are funny, they do not merit serious examination. In an interview with Dwight Garner for the online magazine Salon, Moore defends her use of humor by pointing out that the world is funny and that individuals spend much of their time attempting to be humorous: If you’re going to ignore that, what are you doing? You’re just saying that part of the world . . . doesn’t exist. And of course it exists.”
Several critics have praised Like Life for its continued use of dark humor. In this collection, Sassone claims, she proves that although her natural gift is for kinetic prose about the bright and wired, she can also write understated stories in which the mood is closer to a hush.” Other critics found in the collection a broader thematic range and deeper emotional engagement than in Self-Help. John Casey’s review in the Chicago Tribune describes Moore’s writing as a mix of ”comedy and sadness, wisecracks and poignancy.” Like many critics, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times compares Like Life with Self-Help: ”Although the stories in Like Life are as funny and archly observant as those in Ms. Moore’s earlier collection (Self-Help), they are also softer, wiser, more minor-key.” Kakutani goes on to say that Like Life is superior largely due to the addition of ”lyrical meditation” and the ability of these characters ”to examine— however gingerly—their hurts and missed connections.” Again, Moore was praised for her ability to delineate fictional characters that seem somehow familiar, as if they were autobiographical. The reviews also praise Moore’s ability to depict varying types of human pain in her exploration of contemporary existence.
Birds of America
Criticism of Birds of America has centered on the increasing intensity of Moore’s fiction in both plot and language, the greater depth and complexity of her characters, and her use of searing, dark humor. James McManus, in his review for the New York Times, called Moore’s writing ”fluid, cracked, mordant, colloquial.” Her sentences can ”hold, even startle, us as they glide beneath the radar of ideological theories of behavior to evoke the messy, god-awful behavior itself.” McManus observed that in a few instances—in ”Charades,” for example—the dialogue seems to degenerate into wisecracking but overall praised the collection for articulating the pain and humor of contemporary existence: ”it will stand by itself as one of our funniest, most telling anatomies of human love and vulnerability.” In her review for the Washington Post, Carolyn See criticizes the fact that so much of Moore’s work reflects the unhinged perceptions of upper-middle-class, well-educated women. She praises Birds of America, however, for taking on deeper issues such as cancer and death rather than limiting her scope to that of failed relationships.
- Schumacher, Michael. Reasons to Believe. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
- Casey, John. Review of Like Life. Chicago Tribune, May 20, 1990.
- Kakutani, Michiko. Review of Birds of America. New York Times, June 8, 1990.
- Lee, Don. ”About Lorrie Moore.” Ploughshares 24 (Fall 1998): 224-229.
- McManus, James. ”The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” New York Times, September 20, 1998.
- Passaro, Vince. ”Books.” Mirabella (February 1992): 46, 48, 51.
- Sassone, Ralph. ”This Side of Parody: Lorrie Moore Gets Serious.” Village Voice Literary Supplement (June 1990): 15.
- See, Carolyn. Review of Birds of America. Washington Post, September 25, 1998.
- Garner, Dwight. ”Moore’s Better Blues: Lorrie Moore Finds the Lighter Side of Ordinary Madness in ‘Birds of America.”’ Salon, originally published October 27, 1998. Retrieved on November 16, 2008, from http://www.salon.com/books/int/1998/10/cov_ 27int.html.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.