In the few long days since this nightmare began, part of her has become addicted to disaster and war stories. She wants only to hear about the sadness and emergencies of others. They are the only situations that can join hands with her own; everything else bounces off her shiny shield of resentment and unsympathy. Nothing else can even stay in her brain.
Although "People like That" treats an extreme situation, Moore's talents are equally manifest in any number of quieter stories. She can write about family games at the holidays, where a subtle and frightening turmoil churns just below a seemingly convivial surface. Or a mother and daughter can take a road trip through Ireland, pleasant and ordinary enough until a moment kissing the Blarney Stone turns into terror. When the seemingly imperturbable mother contorts herself to kiss the famous stone, her dignified facade crumbles, as her daughter discovers when she hauls her back up: "She was heavy, stiff with fright, and when they had finally lifted her and gotten her sitting, then standing again, she seemed stricken and pale." The truth is in the momentary shattering of appearances to reveal what lies below.
Lorrie Moore reads from her fiction at the U-M business school on Thursday, January 23.
[Originally published in January, 2003.]