I went to see Lorrie Moore talk with Emma Straub last weekend. Last Friday, I mean. At the Symphony Space on the Upper West Side. (Funny name for a place. Such a generalization, and maybe even a false one.)
Anyway, it was funny, as in odd, and the place was filled with old women with shaking heads. (They couldn’t hear. But, then, the sound system was bad.) Parker Posey was there, too, doing a brief reading of the worst piece in Moore’s eh new collection, Bark. She was sick, apparently, and so bolted from the room just after finishing, not even taking a bow, really, but just letting her head rest right before fleeing to some place more healthy.
The talk itself was unilluminating, except for the fact that Lorrie Moore thinks every story she writes, ever, is worthy of publication. This was revealed, in different words, by Moore saying she doesn’t begin work on a new story until her last story has been accepted to be published. Straub tried to figure out why that was, offering up guesses that mostly played with the idea of not being able to think about two stories at once. But Moore never relented, and insisted that she has never written a story while waiting to hear back about another.
So what does this say? I’m hesitant to generalize about all writers, and even more hesitant to attack Lorrie Moore, who is g’damn talented and one of my steady favorites. But, when Bark is her first collection in 15 years, and when the collection is not very good (note: for Lorrie Moore), it seems to suggest that maybe there needs to be more volume created, or that - more likely - she needs to be rejected.
This goes to support the idea that comfort breeds laziness, but yuck, what a gross string of words. But when we are allowed to get away with something, and the ones who matter to us continue to encourage us to do that thing, what is our motivation to change? Maybe this is a problem found most in those of us who study others more than we study ourselves, and so are too busy to see what we ourselves are doing. If something isn’t working, sure, we know that we need to change it up, at least a little bit. But when something seemingly never fails, what is the point in doing something different?
Far be it from me to suggest Moore do anything different with her stories, or to start writing science fiction or anything. She does what she does extremely well, and is probably one of the few living American writers who has a style so potent that you can find traces of it in the base of many young writers’ stories today. And maybe, after writing stories for several decades, you just don’t want to write so many. But it’s a sad affair when an artist believes every work they’re creating is perfect. Not that Moore believes as much, but when you put together a collection after a 15-year absence, and it’s not a bag of gems, you’ve got to wonder if there are even any gems left to be produced. Or, rather, if Moore can even be bothered to try producing them when she’ll be paid to do less.