Themes and Meanings
The protagonists of Lorrie Moore’s stories are typically women who feel isolated in the world in which they live. These women, whether married or single, are unable to find true intimacy with the men in their lives and also cannot find any real degree of satisfaction in their careers or lifestyles. All efforts at self-help fail. The only thing that does not fail is their sense of humor in viewing their situations.
Zoë Hendricks genuinely tries to find satisfaction in her career and lifestyle. She is interested in the subject that she teaches and in her research on humor in the American presidency. She begins her academic career with the utmost goodwill toward her students, singing songs to them and allowing them to call her at home. When the small midwestern town proves stifling, she seeks diversion in larger cities and more interesting places. Zoë even buys a house but finds it hard to live in this house or to make it her own by changing the decor. She dates single men when the opportunity arises.
In spite of all of her efforts, Zoë remains isolated from virtually everyone—the academic community, the men whom she dates, and even most women, who somehow seem to find satisfaction in their lives. Her sister, Evan, for example, is happy in her relatively trivial occupation as a part-time food designer, one who prepares food for photo shoots. Neither is her sister particularly bothered by the degeneration of intimacy between herself and her future husband. Most people seem to like Evan better than Zoë. Earl, the man disguised as a naked woman, perhaps sums it up best when he expresses a preference for women who work part time over professional women. Women with brains, it seems, are not usually well liked.
Zoë’s saving grace, at least for the reader, is her ever-present, wry sense of humor. It is difficult to pinpoint any serious character flaws in Zoë that would lead her to such a state of isolation. She is perhaps a perfectionist who expects too much from both herself and others. The real flaw, however, seems to be the late twentieth century world, which allows women to assume professional roles but does not really appreciate independent, thinking women with an occasionally nasty twist in their sense of humor.