One of the best short story writers in America resumes her remarkable balancing act with a collection that is both hilarious and heartbreaking, sometimes in the same paragraph.
With the announced retirement and Nobel coronation of Alice Munro, Moore (Birds of America, 1998, etc.) seems peerless in her command of tone and her virtuosity in writing stories that could never be mistaken for anyone else’s. There’s nothing particularly “difficult” about her fiction—except for the incisive reflections of the difficulties, complexities and absurdities of life—nothing academic or postmodern in her approach (except perhaps for the deus ex machina motorcycle gang that inadvertently crashes the unusual wedding in the astonishing closing story, “Thank You for Having Me”). And there is no title story, though the two longest (and two of the best) stories suggest the dual reference of the word "bark," to a tree or a dog. In the opening “Debarking,” a man in the aftermath of a painful divorce becomes involved with an attractive woman who is plainly crazy—and perhaps the craziness is part of the attraction? “Oh, the beautiful smiles of the insane,” he ruminates. “Soon, he was sure, there would be a study that showed that the mentally ill were actually more attractive than other people.” He is a man with a protective bark, and one whose ex-wife accused him of “being hard on people—‘You bark at them.’ ” In “Wings,” a singer involved with a musician who may be crazy, or just deceitful or manipulative, befriends an older man, who responds to the adage “his bark is worse than his bite” with: “I don’t know why people always say that. No bark is worse than a bite. A bite is always worse.” Every one of these stories has a flesh-tearing bite to it, though all but one (“Referential”) are also fiendishly funny.
In stories both dark and wry, Moore wields a scalpel with surgical precision.