Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Lorrie Moore, out loud

We hurried over to Symphony Space after work tonight for another installment of "Selected Shorts" -- that fond memory of my childhood now come to life at the corner of 95th and Broadway, with Isaiah Sheffer himself (he of the great booming public-radio voice) speaking oh-so-lovingly into the mike, introducing the stories and their readers.

The first one tonight was probably my favorite: file it under writing about writing (a perennial topic). From 1985, it was Lorrie Moore's "How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliche?" (They only introduced it with the first half of the title at the show tonight, but I discovered its full name after I found the full text available in the NYT's archives.)

It's written in the second person -- that weird middle-ground voice that can be hard to pull off and make believable as it wavers at times between first-person narrative and omniscience. But it works well in Moore's story, especially since the title introduces it as a sort of how-to.

Those who've taken anything like Fiction 101 or Intro to Poetry might appreciate this passage:
In creative writing seminars over the next two years, everyone continues to smoke cigarettes and ask the same things: ''But does it work?'' ''Why should we care about this character?'' ''Have you earned this cliche?'' These seem like important questions.
The story has a lot of laugh lines, but it felt a bit off-kilter to me, because I was expecting to laugh a few more times, but then the narrative took a turn for the serious and not-so-hilarious. Only after it was all finished did I start to think back to how the author dropped in allusions and hints to what was going on in her family and her head beneath the veneer of "deciding to become ..." and then "becoming a writer."

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