Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“People Like That Are the Only People Here” is one of Lorrie Moore’s most autobiographical stories. She suffered through a similar ordeal with her son, Benjamin. This story is more than a story about how a mother would cope with learning that her baby has cancer; it is a story specifically about how a writer who is a mother would cope with this discovery. A writer’s ordeal is not radically different from any other parent’s ordeal in a similar situation, but her means of coping with the ordeal will inevitably bear the marks of her occupation as a writer. It is the writer’s business to make sense out of and to bring order to the messy, sometimes tragic components of human life. This writer and mother is faced with a situation that does not make sense; she is faced with the task of articulating something unthinkable: Her baby has cancer.

The mother’s first response is similar to the response of any mother: disbelief, denial, self-blame, and anger. The husband’s suggestion that she take notes initially strikes her as insane, but taking notes, or putting her experience into words, is the writer’s only defense. Even the god that she quickly makes up (the one that looks like a manager at Marshall Field’s) can only console her with advice about the elements of good narration. The writer often does not know the full narrative in advance. Not knowing is a gift in life as well as in narrative. If one takes away surprises, one takes away life and...

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