Lorrie Moore gets called unique plenty, so let me propose an alternative description: take the American gothic currents of Joyce Carol Oates, boil down and condense; instill the pithy black humor of Sam Lipsyte and the absurdist instincts of George Saunders—minus the sci-fi, futuristic flourishes; add a dose of domestic macabre a la A.M. Homes; invite the open-ended poetry of Lydia Davis but mix it with the sociological precision of Jonathan Franzen, and you have something like a recipe for a Lorrie Moore story. Her writing contains multitudes, mixed in exacting proportions, which is to say: this potpourri is utterly and totally—ahem—unique.
In Bark, Moore’s latest collection, this singularity is on display. As with much of her earlier work, it isn’t plot so much as interpersonal tension that provides the narrative suspense. When Moore stretched plot into a novel—A Gate at the Stairs, her most recent work before Bark—the novel seemed, at times, to be fighting for cohesion. (I love this book, but I loved it for the brother-sister tenderness, the babysitter-parent awkwardness, and other pairings that gave the book a deep and abiding humanity.) In Bark, she’s back to the form with which she made her name, and many of the stories in this collection, as they did in previous books, circle around some horror of unimaginable and yet everyday dimensions. (If I had included deceased authors in my Moore mash-up, I’d have added Joseph Conrad mixed with Shirley Jackson.) For one of the most awesome and awful stories of all time, read “People Like That Are the Only People Here" from Birds of America, which begins with the utterly chilling sentence: “The Mother finds a clot in the Baby’s diaper.” In “Wings”—the most fully realized story in this collection by my estimation—the horror is a mysterious rotting smell that turns out to be a rat king, burrowed in the attic of the characters’ house, but it’s also a semisweet relationship between the young(ish), pretty protagonist and a lonely old man that morphs into something much more sinister. It’s to Moore’s credit that she can juxtapose such straightforward, grotesque symbolism against a much more subtle insidiousness. I guess there really is no one quite like her.