The only thing more evident than Lorrie Moore’s intelligence, in her new short story collection Bark, is her unflinching understanding of human nature. The darkest and yet most mundane aspects of human fear and need come out to play in the stories that populate Moore’s collection.
A divorcee father trying to pursue an unhinged fellow divorcee; single women of a small town sharing and stewing over the same dwindling pool of men; a taken woman befriending a much older man and betraying him for money. Couples of all shapes and sizes struggle and fail within these pages.
Moore’s newest collection is not meant for the romantic faint of heart. It pulls back the thick layer of popular culture romance in order to reveal the most basic of human instincts: fear. In Moore’s anchor story “Debarking,” nervous Ira frets over the post-9/11 world as he tries to be a good father to his distant daughter. Ira’s fear manifests in the form of a love interest, a woman so desperately unhinged that it’s almost laughable that he would try to stay with her. But one can’t laugh at him. The fear of terrorist attacks and wars and corrupt politicians weigh Ira down. They drag Ira through a rabbit hole and he clings to the unbalanced woman because she keeps him from being alone with his fears. This conjoining represents Moore’s greatest strength, her give and take between external and internal. How do we cope with the nature of the world even as we struggle to keep partners and children happy? No one in Moore’s stories knows the answer, but that doesn’t keep them from trying to live.
Moore’s collection gathers together the acts and moments that define 21st century life: the dark, fear-infused post-9/11 reality that most of the world ignores on the surface. But underneath we all feel it, or at least, all of Moore’s sharply drawn characters feel it. What it’s like to grow old in an unpredictable, volatile world.
Diving into Bark will not give a reader a sense of euphoria. It will not elate (though laughter at the absurdity of life might happen, a few times even). But you will leave Moore’s world feeling utterly real, as if for a moment the world beneath the surface has been revealed. A blindfold removed. Humanity’s minor and major tragedies displayed before you in a way you always felt, but struggled to see.