Self-Help

Published By: Vintage

Book Category: Fiction, Short Stories

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Reviewed by Michele Heather Pollock

Lorrie Moore is famous for her humor, her wry use of language, and her honest look into the strangeness that is at the heart of human lives. Vintage Contemporaries has just republished her 1985 book of short stories, Self-Help, in which Moore takes the how-to genre and turns it on its head. Instead of high-minded advice about happiness, success and love, Moore provides stories that outline how to become "the other woman," lay out an ironic kid's guide to divorce, and even advise the (best?) way to face the end one's life when confronted with terminal illness.

These stories gain much of their power through the imperative voice. "Meet in expensive beige raincoats, on a pea-soupy night," Moore begins in "How to Be an Other Woman." She is talking directly to us, the readers. She is giving advice, and her characters take it, and we get to see, by the actions carried out, that she is not necessarily providing a hopeful fantasy of what we might want to be, but more a roadmap of what inherently is.

These stories are now more than 20 years old, but reading (or re-reading) them again today, they are as poignant and relevant as they were in 1985. Her subject matter is timeless--love and death and relationships with mothers--and her subjects, the characters of her stories, remain witty and edgy and current.

Moore is a writer of great talent, and her mirthful use of irony is one thing that separates her from other short story writers, has even made her a writer that other writers study and mimic and revere. Almost as if, in 1985, predicting this place she would occupy in the world, she gave us in this collection the story "How to Become a Writer," in which she bluntly lays out this admonishment: "First, try to be something, anything, else." We can only thank goodness that she didn't seriously follow her own advice.

Armchair Interviews says: Check out Lorrie Moore on Wikipedia. She sold this first book of short stories derived from her 1985 thesis when she was 26. Lucky us.

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