Bark: Stories

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Bark: Stories

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Death, divorce, and indecision haunt the characters in Bark, Lorrie Moore's eagerly anticipated new story collection (Knopf). How can you properly apologize to the ghost of a newly dead friend you failed to visit as she lay dying? What can you do when your husband begins to behave like a space alien—or maybe he is just having an affair. And is there an appropriate birthday gift for a teenage son who is totally deranged?

For all their genuine sadness and existential angst, these powerfully, almost savagely, human stories shine with a spirit of playfulness and the logic of love. They celebrate the possibility that even the most jaded among us can still be won over by a glimmer of compassion, as in "Foes," when a man suddenly comprehends the deep suffering of a woman with whom he is patronizingly arguing politics. Characters are pushed to the edge of what they can endure, at which point it turns out that they can endure still more.

Moore, who published her remarkable debut, Self-Help, 29 years ago, also knows how to push a metaphor past poignancy to brilliance. A woman muses, "Aloneness was like riding a bike. At gunpoint. With the gun in your own hand. Aloneness was the air in your tires, the wind in your hair. You didn't have to go looking for it with open arms. With open arms, you fell off the bike."

The Iraq war, the election of Barack Obama, and the death of Michael Jackson ground these stories in our America. Moore interweaves public failures with individual, private ones to create a seamless tragicomic fabric and reminds us that laughing is something like choking, which is a lot like crying. 

— Bonnie Jo Campbell