An Interview with Lorrie Moore
I met Lorrie Moore in a cafe near Columbus Circle the publication week of her new collection, Bark, and in the midst of a whirlwind reading tour that had temporarily taken her from her visiting professor gig at Vanderbilt. She wore earrings with small airplanes dangling from them and at a point, one became tangled and she had to fiddle with it and replace it. It seemed like an apt metaphor for the slight but nagging discomfort of constant air travel. We both had beer, and she initially ordered a Blue Moon, but wound up settling for whatever they had on tap. Our conversation was wide-ranging and general, covering MFA programs, a loyalty to a team of her agent, editor, publisher, writing program, and Alice Munro. She, however, insisted that I not take notes; she was afraid of being misquoted. When I told her she didn’t need to worry, I had a recorder, she laughed and said, “That’s even worse!”
Since her first publication (Self-Help in 1985), Moore has stood out as a striking voice unafraid of any subject. Bark is the result of a long wait; her last original collection of stories (Birds of America) was published in 1998. Though she published A Gate at the Stairs in 2009, there is a special excitement around a Lorrie Moore short story collection.
Moore’s stories in Bark can read like miniature time capsules from a just-passed era. “Debarking” takes place against the backdrop of the Iraq War, “Foes” references 9/11 and the first Obama campaign, “Subject to Search” contains veiled hints toward Abu Ghraib. Still, each story contains timeless human truths about our interactions with the world around us. The exchange below took place over email.
THE BELIEVER: Both “Debarking” and “Foes” take place against a backdrop of political events that have to some degree left the public consciousness. Why set “Debarking” in an era of worry about the Iraq War rather than, say, the Great Recession? Similarly, what do you feel “Foes” gains by being in conversation with the tragedy of 9/11 and the first Obama campaign?
LORRIE MOORE: The settings were less “chosen” than experienced as an integral part of the story I was trying to construct. They were inspiration and fuel. “Debarking” was written in 2003 (when the invasion of Iraq occurred and was on everybody’s mind) and “Foes” was written in 2008 just before Obama was elected. That was an exciting year. I would like to live in that year forever.
BLVR: Can you elaborate on why?
LM: The Obama election. I don’t think the world gets more exciting than that.
BLVR: In many of these stories, there is the threat of physical violence hovering just beyond the page. “Debarking” and the war, “The Juniper Tree” and the car accident that claims Isabel’s arm to name a few examples. In “Paper Losses” you say the only commonality between men is a capability for extreme violence. What is the role of violence in your stories beyond as a backdrop or referent?
LM: There really is no more violence in the stories than there is in real life, and actually, when you think about it, much, much less. I’m trying to write about the way we live now, to borrow that old phrase.
New by me.
Though Tillman is short, below 5’5”, her voluminous head of hair makes her an unmissable figure on the street. She laughs often and hugs everyone with whom she has spent more than five minutes.From my profile of Lynne Tillman in Time Out New York.
The fact that she’s still chiseling out great fiction, that she has such a strong body of work, and the publication of her latest collection of essays all prove that Lynne Tillman is the type of living writer whose work has been criminally overlooked for too long. But she has finally reached a point at which the reading public has caught up with what’s she’s been doing for all these years.
Stay tuned for my profile of her upcoming in a certain publication.