Author: Lorrie Moore
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Self-Help is the first short story collection from American writer Lorrie Moore, published in 1985. It’s the kind of collection that might make you feel badly about your own attempts at writing short fiction—her skill at crafting a story around small actions and observations with poignancy and humour is boundless.
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As the title suggests, Moore is playing with the idea of self-help manuals. The opening story of the collection, “How to Be an Other Woman”, is about a young woman who enters into an affair with an older, married man. Told in the second person, the reader is put into the front seat of the story—it’s an effective narrative technique. “After four movies, three concerts, and two-and-a-half museums you sleep with him. It seems the right number of cultural events,” Moore writes. As the narrator starts to lose her sense of self in the relationship, compiling lists in an attempt to hold on to reality, we are taken along with her.
Moore’s stories deal with serious, even morbid subjects, but her skill as a writer allows her to tinge them with a humour that doesn’t detract from the story itself. Such as in “Go Like This”, a story about a woman with cancer who decides to end her own life and announces her intention to a roomful of friends, to varying responses. “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)” tells the story of a relationship between a mother and daughter in reverse, from after the mother’s death. It’s quietly heartbreaking, but with moments of almost defiant comedy.
Moore’s stories are truly one of a kind and I feel richer for having read her. She has also written novels, but in my opinion her strengths lie most in her short stories. Self-Help is the perfect place to get acquainted with her.