SELF-HELP by Lorrie Moore


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In this flimsy, strained collection of nine short stories, young writer Moore offers, for the most part, variations on a single gimmick and two limited situations. The gimmick? Stories in the form of self-help/instruction manuals--written in the second person, with a mannered veneer of ironic wisecracks to half-mask the essential sentimentality beneath. The situations: a young woman caught in an unhappy, no-win romantic relationship; and a young woman's recollections of her unhappy, unstable mother. Thus, ""How to Be an Other Woman"" is the lament of a woman in love with a married man--alternating ironic directives (""Smile at all his office and mother-in-law stories"") with banal ones (""Wonder who you are"") before ending with a tired punchline. ""How"" is How to Leave Your Lover, shuffling a similar mixture of cutesy/drippy one-liners (""Dream about rainbows""), along with lines from the Robert Goulet hit ""If Ever I Would Leave You."" ""The Kid's Guide to Divorce"" briefly describes a daughter's behavior with her sad, divorced mother. (""Decide to try Channel 7, just for your mom's sake."") ""How to Become a Writer"" is precisely the blend of self-deprecation and self-pity you'd expect from the author of the other stories here. (""Vacuum. Chew cough drops. Keep a folder full of fragments."") And when Moore abandons this tinker-toy formula, the results are only slightly more interesting: ""What is Seized"" gives conventional, first-person/montage treatment to memories of a miserable, mad, now-dying mother--but with too much stagy whininess to be affecting (""And when your mother starts to lose her mind, so do you""); ""Go Like This"" is an artsy exercise, a monologue for a terminally ill woman planning her suicide; and the longest story, ""To Fill,"" is likewise a studied assemblage of distressed streams-of-consciousness--as a married woman verges on breakdown amid recollections of passion (""How we loved each other with forks""), mordant wisecracks, and pseudo-profundities. (""Life is a pun, I say. It's something that sounds like one thing but also sounds like even means like something else."") A few glimmers of talent here and there--but maudlin/juvenile work overall: boutique fiction at its most cutesy-poo.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1985
ISBN: 0307277291
Publisher: Knopf