Lorrie Moore Destroying Relationships
by Tao Lin
When I first saw the title of Lorrie Moore's story "People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk," I thought, hmm, is this pretentious? I wasn't sure. I felt a little mathematical, looking at it. It seemed technical, or else somehow robotic, that title. I thought, what is Peed Onk? What's this colon? (The colon seemed enormously complex in that context.) Why can't I understand what this title means? What is going on here?
It was a Xeroxed copy, passed out by my then fiction instructor.
I had a feeling that it was a John Barth short story. I hadn't read anything by him before, but I had heard of him, and this, I thought, seemed like something he would write.
It said "Lorrie Moore" on top, but I still thought that thing about John Barth. At first, too, I thought that "Lorrie Moore" was a guy's name. I wasn't quite sure what to do with the story. It had a lot of semi colons and dashes. Too many, it seemed. I looked at it for a while. I checked how long it was--it was long--then started reading.
It made me smile and laugh, made me feel, more so than anything I had read before. A few times, I was startled, and, amazed! I had to stop many times to show my then girlfriend how good it was. I showed her the "Tiny Tim Lounge" paragraph. After she read it she said, "Good," or something like that, and when I pointed at the paragraph again, when I looked into her face and said, "Look, 'part gratitude, part generosity, part fuck-you,' (that was the punch-line) she faked, it seemed, a little laugh.
I learned something that day.
The next day I bought Lorrie Moore's book, "Birds of America." I saw a classmate in the street and showed him the book. He looked at the author photo and said, "She's too hot to be good." I didn't know what to say to that. I think I finally said something like, "She's old. Well, not too old. Forty-something, I think."
I soon read everything by Lorrie Moore.
I showed a co-worker "Canonical Babbling..."
I said, "Read this, it's hilarious." She read it and said, "That wasn't funny, it was sad. It's about a baby with cancer! That's sad!" Then she laughed a little. I said, "Wasn't it good, though?" She said, "No, it was depressing!"
We don't talk about books anymore.
Then one night, my girlfriend broke up with me. But she later wanted to get back together. But I said no. I said that we were different. I didn't say it, but I was thinking that I read everything by Lorrie Moore after reading her one story, and she, I knew, did not read anything else by Lorrie Moore. Since then, though, she has read and praised Lorrie Moore, but we don't talk much anymore.
Some time later, a classmate of mine saw me with "Anagrams." (Lorrie Moore's first novel) I showed her the scene where Benna is offered up to the ceiling. She said, "What the fuck?" She laughed. She looked around, obviously rattled. I thought, "Good, good reaction." She was taken aback, I felt. I said, "Go buy the book." I said, "If you don't love Lorrie Moore, then we shouldn't talk anymore. It would be a waste of time."
She expressed apprehension about that.
"I hate it when people say that," she said. She laughed. Then she bought the book. She read it, said something to the effect that it was boring because nothing happened. After that semester, we exchanged e-mails a few times, but then stopped, and I haven't talked to her since.
Most recently, I bought my brother "Like Life." (Lorrie Moore's second short story collection) We have the same sense of humor so I was sure he'd enjoy "Like Life." We were home for Christmas at our parent's house. When my brother left after New Year's, he left without "Like Life." I found it in the bathroom of the guest room, with multiple folds--folds in the middle of a few different stories.
I later e-mailed him. I said, "You left 'Like Life,' at home." He said, "We have very different tastes." I said, "You left the Borges book at home too." (I had bought him two books.) I forget what he said to that. I don't think he said anything. We never really talked to each other, and we still don't.
About the author:
"Lorrie Moore Destroying Relationships" was originally for Powell's essay contest. It's non-fiction and all true. Tao Lin is actually a journalism student. He lives in Jersey City.