Lorrie Moore 1957-
(Full name Marie Lorena Moore) American short story writer, novelist, children's writer, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Moore's career through 2001.
Among the most promising American short story writers to emerge during the 1980s, Moore is distinguished for the clever wordplay, irony, and sardonic humor of her fiction, all of which usually masks an underlying sadness or trauma experienced by her characters. Best known for her novel Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1994) and the short story collections Self-Help (1985) and Birds of America (1998), Moore presents female protagonists who are often exploring loss or moving toward a new, undefined stage in their lives. Her darkly comic stories are filled with relationships in which the partners feel alone and devoid of hope. Her adult characters typically find themselves coping with realizations that their lives will not fulfill their hopes and dreams; consequently, they experience feelings of displacement and unease. Moore's fiction has appeared in numerous periodicals, including the New Yorker, which featured one of her best known stories, “People Like That Are the Only People Here,” in 1998.
Born in Glen Falls, New York, Moore was interested in creative writing as a young child. Her parents participated in a local community theatre, where Moore learned to appreciate drama and language. Academically gifted, she advanced quickly through public school and won a Regent scholarship, which she used to attend St. Lawrence University. Her writing career began at age nineteen when she won first prize in a Seventeen magazine fiction contest for her short story “Raspberries.” Moore won several academic honors as an undergraduate, including the Paul L. Wolfe Memorial Prize for Literature, and was editor of the university's literary journal. After graduating in 1978, she worked for the next two years in Manhattan as a paralegal while attempting to develop her writing talents further. She entered Cornell University's Master of Fine Arts program in 1980, where she studied with Alison Lurie, and in 1982 received her M.F.A., staying on as a lecturer at Cornell through 1984. Her first volume of short stories, Self-Help, contained pieces she had written for her master's thesis. In 1984 Moore accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she remains as the Delmore Schwartz Professor in the Humanities and a member of the English department. She was also the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence at Baruch College in 2000. Throughout her career, Moore has received a number of prestigious prizes and fellowships, including the A. L. Andrews Prize at Cornell in 1982 for three of the short stories later published in Self-Help. She was named as a Granville Hicks Memorial fellow in 1983, and received a National Endowment for the Arts award and a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1989. Along with winning three O. Henry awards—for “Charades” (1993), “Terrific Mother” (1994), and “People Like That Are the Only People Here” (1998)—Moore has received six Best American Short Story awards and, in 1996, was included the “Best of Young American Novelists” issue of Granta 54. Her story, “You're Ugly, Too,” appeared in the 2000 anthology Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. Birds of America was nominated for a National Book Critics' Circle Award and was named one of the Best Books of 1998 by the New York Times.
Since the 1930s, the American short story has been noted for moving away from streamlined, carefully crafted prose toward minimalism and the sophisticated, witty, experimental work of Moore and other contemporary short fiction writers. Self-Help is one of the first of a group of short story collections that helped redefine the genre in the mid-1980s. The nine stories mock the popular form of “how-to” books, and most are written in the second person, including “How to Be an Other Woman,” “How to Become a Writer,” and “Go Like This,” which tells the story of a woman confronted with the news that she has terminal cancer. Other stories in the collection explore the often trying relationship between mothers and daughters. While Moore is best known for her short fiction, she has explored other genres as well. Moore wrote her first novel, Anagrams (1986), during her early years in Wisconsin. It is the story of a nightclub singer, Benna, who tries unsuccessfully to rearrange the letters of words to make anagrams, and similarly tries to make sense of the disjointed details of her life. In this work, as in Self-Help, Moore experiments with point-of-view. The eight stories of Like Life (1990) are less satiric than those in her earlier collection. Thematically, the stories are concerned with romance, particularly the pain and irony that can result from relationships gone awry. Two of the stories, “Vissi d'Arte” and “Starving Again,” focus on male protagonists who both fail at creating a lasting bond with an object of affection. “You're Ugly, Too,” which depicts the destructive effects of loneliness on a woman in her thirties, contains a haunting, ambiguous ending. The novel Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? opens in Paris, where Berie Carr and her husband are attending medical conference and hoping to renew their flagging marriage. Berie, however, cannot help remembering her fifteenth year, when, with her best friend Sils, she worked at a Canadian amusement park called Storyland. Sils played Cinderella at the park, but Berie, who had not yet attained physical maturity, was a cashier. The park's happily-ever-after fairy tale theme contrasts sharply with the reality of the girls' growing up and the challenges they face. A bildungsroman with a female protagonist, the novel is full of humor, derived primarily from wordplay, but the overarching theme is one of loss. Berie reminisces about her lost childhood and her lost optimism for the future.
Birds of America contains twelve stories—with ten focusing on female lives and perceptions. The title has been variously interpreted, with some seeing it as a reference to nineteenth-century naturalist and painter John James Audubon, who killed birds before enshrining them for posterity in his watercolors. The women in the collection, like nearly all of Moore's female characters, are Midwestern, well-educated, and in their thirties or forties. They have lived sufficiently to have experienced loss but still believe in the potential for exciting possibilities. A thread that runs through many of the stories is physical pain, the result of either accident or disease—Down's syndrome, polio, cystic fibrosis, or cancer. With two exceptions, however, the diseases and misfortunes do not afflict the protagonists; rather, they occur in the lives of a sibling, a child, or a parent and affect the protagonist in unexpected ways. “Real Estate” contains two plots that intertwine. The first involves a woman who realizes that her cancer is no longer in remission; the second concerns a young man who turns to armed robbery when he is fired from his job. The most celebrated of the stories in Birds of America is “People Like That Are the Only People Here,” in which a baby is diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer. The mother finds a blood clot in the baby's diaper, and the nightmare of an emergency room visit, surgery, and chemotherapy begins. The staccato nature of thoughts and events are memorably captured in Moore's raw and nuanced telling of this devastating event in the life of a young family. Moore has also authored a children's book, The Forgotten Helper: A Story for Children (1987), and edited an anthology of stories about childhood, I Know Some Things (1992), republished in 1997 as The Faber Book of Contemporary Stories About Childhood.
Critics have considered Moore to be one of the foremost practitioners of the innovative and urbane American short fiction that emerged in the final two decades of the twentieth century. While Self-Help has been acclaimed by reviewers, her novel Anagrams has been regarded as far less illustrative of Moore's talent. Critics have praised Like Life for its emotional engagement and broader thematic scope. Some of the short stories in this volume, notably “You're Ugly, Too,” have been considered as representative of the best in American short fiction. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? has been generally well received, though some reviewers found the novel's Parisian sections overly coy and questioned Moore's ability to sustain the breadth and scope of the novel form. Birds of America has been widely complimented for its sharply etched vignettes and the maturity of Moore's narratives. In particular, “People Like That Are the Only People Here” has attracted notice for its emotional power, which has been considered by many reviewers as evidence of Moore's skill with narrative control. Moore's incorporation of humor, particularly puns and one-liners, has been both admired and admonished by critics, with some arguing that Moore's jokes lessen the emotional connections between the text and the reader.