Lorrie Moore has no shortage of literary admirers. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that one of her biggest fans happens to be bestselling novelist Gary Shteyngart, who sings her praises in an episode of The New Yorker Fiction Podcast. “I keep a picture of Lorrie Moore by my bedside—I work in bed—to remind me not to write short stories, because it’s very hard to get them to be this good,” he says. He goes on to read aloud “Paper Losses,” one of his favorites from Bark, Moore’s first collection in fifteen years.
For Shteyngart, “Paper Losses” is a great example of what makes Lorrie Moore a master of the form. “A good short story is really like a novel—it has to contain a whole world,” he explains. “And that requires incredible economy.” This piece does that and more: it encompasses the entire history of a twenty-year marriage by focusing on a wife’s painful memories of her divorce. Through a couple of funny yet devastating images, Moore explores a wide range of emotions: love, vulnerability, denial, and sorrow. Shteyngart is particularly taken with Moore’s description of the wife crying during a massage-therapy session:
The mad joy in her face was held over the floor by the massage-table headpiece, and at his touch her eyes filled with bittersweet tears, which then dripped out of her nose, which she realized was positioned perfectly by God as a little drainpipe for crying. [p. 75]
The woman’s “drainpipe” nose is “kind of a funny image,” Shteyngart says, “but here it’s the most despairing and horrific thing that you encounter. It’s that wonderful combination of both humor and deep, deep tragedy.”
Enjoy Shteyngart’s reading and discussion with New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman about the story’s mechanics and Lorrie Moore’s inimitable writing style. With exquisite prose, provocative themes, and emotional depth, the stories in Bark are not only essential reading for short fiction lovers, they’re perfect for book clubs. Print a reader’s guide and enjoy!
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