How Do You Write About Books That Are Just Lukewarm?

It’s a short story, actually – Lorrie Moore’s “Debarked” from her collection Bark. To be clear, I’ve only read this one little story in the collection. The rest of the book could be spectacular, and I could totally be missing out. I wanted to get writing for The Purple Sponge as soon as possible, so something short and sweet seemed appropriate. Lorrie Moore has given me plenty to think about before: I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve smirked (I’ve read two Lorrie Moore stories, but I can’t remember which) buuuuuuut this one didn’t do it for me.

Here’s the summary: Ira, a 6-months divorced Jewish man who can’t get his wedding ring off his finger, tries to navigate an incredibly lukewarm and awkward relationship with Zora – whom he describes as “mentally ill” because she says off-putting, wonky things and makes naked baby sculptures in her free time. Oh, and her relationship with her moody son, Bruno, is a freudian-ish one: they play footsie under the dinner table and frequently wrestle. There are naked baby(/not quite baby anymore) pictures of him all over the living room. But Ira is in “love” with her (or, you know, isn’t lonely while he’s with her) and thinks she’s beautiful. All the while, the impending war in Iraq follows him around like a shadow.

Maybe I don’t relate (though it is somewhat strange that this is the story I read while visiting my parents, who are in the process of separating after a long marriage and will, I’m 99% sure, get a divorce eventually. Maybe they would relate, or maybe they would after 6 months when/if they’re lonely and dating people. Also, Ira’s daughter’s name is Bekka, which is closer to my own name than is comfortable) I don’t like using relatability as a measure for how good or bad something is, but I’m saying it’s possible that this story resonates with someone while for me it was a 2.5 star bit.

I always enjoy Moore’s writing, though, and “Debarked” certainly has some descriptive gems. Moore has mastered punctuation, dialogue, and flow in such a way that every human interaction is extraordinarily human.

Ira first meets Zora at a “pre-Easter Prince of Peace Dinner” that his work friend, Mike, puts on. As a Jewish man, Ira is obliged to make jokes, which leads to our first impression of Zora:
To Lent!” Ira cried. “To the final days!” And in case that was too grim, he added, “And to the coming resurrection! May it happen a little closer this time! Jesus Christ!” Soon he wandered back into the kitchen and, as he felt was required of him, shrieked at the pork. Then he began milling around again, apologizing for the Crucifixion: “We really didn’t intend it,” he murmured, “not really, not the killing part? We just kind of got carried away? You know how spring can get a little crazy, but believe me, we’re all really really sorry. […]
Although no one else did, [Zora] howled with laughter, and when her face wasn’t blasted apart with it or her jaw snapping mutely open and shut like scissors (in what Ira recognized as postdivorce hysteria …) Ira could see she was very beautiful
Don’t you know someone whose face blasts apart with they laugh? Here’s another one I liked: Ira describes the state of his former marriage with Marilyn.
Hard, cold, and mean: that had been his own home with Marilyn, at the end. It was like those experimental monkeys with the wire-monkey moms. What did the baby monkeys know? The wire mother was all they had, all they knew in their hearts, and so they clung to it, as had he, even if it was only a coat hanger.

The way she structures her sentences lends a certain rhythm, helps you to go on with the story:

When he pictured Zora’s lovely face, it helped his tenuous affections. She had written her phone number and signed of with a swashbuckling Z–as in Zorro. That was cute, he supposed. He guessed. Who knew. He had to lie down.

What is that called? Free Indirect Discourse? It’s a fun kind of third-person narrative that slips and slides into and out of the character’s consciousness. She does it while using punctuation to mimic his mental indecision about whether the swashbuckling Z was cute or weird. I mean, I think like this sometimes, right? “I guess. Maybe. Kind of. Maybe not. I don’t want to think about this.” I love when the written word can mimic the rhythm and sway of our thoughts.

Ira’s sardonic humor reminds me of Louie C.K., a little. It’s mostly the premise – divorced man with deprecating sense of humor, a mind toward the crumbling world at large, trying to be an okay father, trying to date, but the dating/human interaction part is hard and awkward but hey, let’s just go with it – that reminds me of him. Regardless, Louis C.K. is far more insightful and funny.

Here’s the run-down:

  1. Even if I don’t dig the premise or the story too much, Moore is still a fabulous writer and there are some great moments if you take a second to appreciate it.
  2. Life is weird. Sometimes (most of the time) crazy violent horrible things are happening in the world – Like the U.S. bombing countries in the middle east – while we deal with our clumsy everyday lives and problems here at home. There’s a juxtaposition there that Moore is trying to get at. I didn’t talk much about the war aspect of the story in this review, but the war in Iraq is a recurring concern for Ira in the midst of his more personal problems.
  3. I don’t care about Ira. I don’t like him or dislike him. I don’t care about his life or his story, really, either.
  4. Its 2 star rating is pretty much for the writing and the writing only.
  5. It took me weeks to write this review because 1. writing and putting writing out there for everyone to read is scary, okay? and 2. I didn’t want to think too much about this story after about a day. But here you go! Here it is!

Next up is All The Light You Cannot See, and that book was bomb dot com so I am pumped! Good night readers 🙂

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