Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bark: Stories, by Lorrie Moore

Bark is a rather small collection of short stories--and its brevity is a good thing, as the stories are so bleak that any more than the eight Moore has included might be too much for the reader to bear. While Moore's trademark dark humor is in evidence, it feels forced in some of the stories, whose themes are aging, divorce, and isolation.  Sadly, most of the stories don't really stick in my mind.

Most memorable for me was the first story in the collection, "Debarking," in which the recently divorced Ira ventures back into the dating world via a fix-up with pediatrician Zora, whom he early on suspects is crazy. Her cringeworthy relationship with her son Bruno and her expressed wish that she could spank some of her patients provide evidence that he is right. Nonetheless, Ira tries hard to make the relationship work, and here Moore's humor works.

I also liked "Wings," in which two failed musicians, KC and Dench, are in a relationship that is also failing. KC befriends an elderly man whose house she passes on her morning walk to get coffee. As she becomes more involved in his life, seemingly a kind and loving friend, the reader also has a sense that her intentions may not be honorable.

"Thank You for Having Me," the story of a mother and daughter attending a wedding at which the bride's ex-husband provides the music while his father longs for a moment of intimacy with his ex-daughter-in-law, is the most upbeat in the collection--and one of the funniest.

I listened to the audio version of the book, read by Moore herself, and (as is often the case when authors choose to read their own work) felt she would have been better served by another reader. Overall, a disappointment.

Favorite passage:
Despite her reading difficulties, despite the witless naming of the cats, Ira knew Bekka was highly intelligent. He knew from the time she spent lying around the house, bored and sighing and saying, "Dad, when will childhood be over?"

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