Self-Help, Lorrie Moore


This is one of those books that reminds me on every page that fiction about women and women’s stuff and thoughts and things do not need to be cheesy or silly or fluffy, and that they can be hilarious and clever and original and display a phenomenal critical approach to crucial life events such as first dates and the end of a relationship and mental mums and cheating men and life and death; all topics that have been filed under ‘domestic’ and ‘not important’ for so long that even ardent feminists such as myself struggle to envision them without pink book jackets.

Lorrie Moore’s writing is as sharp as my tools to describe it are blunt on this December afternoon. I finished reading it last week, and now I want to return to it straight away, but my writing challenge forbids it, if I don’t want to fail. This year I’ll continue with the challenge, and acknowledge all the reading joy it has given me, while understanding that the restrictions it has put on my reading (not being able to return to something because I have to move on; sometimes resenting books, stories, authors because I have to plough through their pages instead of luxuriate in them; feeling so goddam anxious I might fail at all times) are not restrictions I want to carry forward with me.

My favourite story in the collection is Go Like This, in which the narrator Liz, a children’s book author, tells her friends she plans to kill herself to avoid the later stages of an incurable cancer. They debate it like they’re choosing from a takeaway menu, but in showing everyone their future without her, Liz sees how inconsequential, in various ways, her absence will be. Her husband has already moved on. Her daughter wants to know who will take her to clarinet class.

In What Is Seized, Moore tracks us backwards through a marriage, showing the narrator’s father up to be an awful bastard, and that her mother knew this all along.

How to Become a Writer is, unsurprisingly, one of the funniest and most cruel. “First try to be something, anything, else,” it begins. And when the writer receives her first feedback: “Some of your images are quite nice, but you have no sense of plot.” Later, while studying creative writing: “You read the whole thing out loud in class. No one likes it. They say your sense of plot is outrageous and incompetent. After class someone asks you if you are crazy.”

“Decide not to go to law school after all…Quit classes. Quit jobs. Cash in old savings bonds. Now you have time like warts on your hands. Slowly copy all of your friends’ addresses into a new address book.

Vacuum. Chew cough drops. Keep a folder full of fragments.”

I have so many folders*.

Lorrie Moore is brave and brutal. At least this review writing thing allowed me to revisit her sooner than I thought I could.

Self-Help (Faber Modern Classics, £8.99) is just £6.79 at Hive

*Update, March 2024: I HAVE SO MANY FOLDERS.