Monday, January 19, 2015

Speak, Fido!

According to Lorrie Moore, those who first viewed the exterior covering of the brain thought it resembled the bark of a tree and so named it the Latin for bark, or cortex.  This is the third sense of bark that I recall from her recent short story collection of the same name, Bark: Stories.

There's the verb debark, also the title of the collection's first story: "Debarked" (which I interpreted as also meaning a way of reducing a dog's power, or in this case, that of the man at the center of the story). There's the bark of a dog who appears in the story "Wings." The New York Times reviewer cites a few more examples, although the epigraphs he mentions do not appear in the audiobook.

There are eight stories in this collection. Some are better than others, all seem to be infused with middle-aged regret and disappointment with a knowing acknowledgement of inherent ridiculousness of this regret. Several of them make mention of what might have been current events when Moore was writing; the invasion of Iraq, the revelations at Abu Ghraib prison, the (ridiculous) assertions about the birthplace of our current president. These dated the stories for me, and not in a good way.

A few highlights: Ira, the hapless hero of "Debarking," notes that he's dating a 10th grader. This boy's mother is Ira's first girlfriend following his divorce and she has what some might call a unhealthy relationship with her child. A group of women gather to mourn a friend (in the company of the ghost of the friend) in "The Juniper Tree" (title reference is not clear) and break out into "The Star-Spangled Banner." In "Thank You for Having Me," a mother and her teenaged daughter attend a wedding catered by the bride's ex-boyfriend that is mistakenly crashed by a group of Hells Angels. And in "Wings," a singer whose career is mostly behind her and with a do-nothing rock-and-roll boyfriend, strikes up a friendship with an old man.

The author reads her own work. On the scale of narrating authors, Moore is pretty good. She has an easy voice to listen to, with no particular accent but a unique whispery quality. There is the occasional mid-sentence pause, or a loud breath or gulp; I think these are evident only to really serious listeners because for the most part she reads with plenty of variation and interest. She doesn't attempt to create vocal characters, but it's not difficult to track the dialogue. A lot of my impression of inherent ridiculousness comes from her slightly ironic reading.

And she does offer a rendition of the end of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in a husky, twangy alto.

Moore is the fourth author-narrator I listened to last year, and all of them were pretty good: Angelou, Federle, and Woodson. Special mention to Sonia Sotomayor, who read the prologue to her memoir (and stopped while she was ahead!).

[This is a horizontal slice of the head of an adult female, showing the cerebral cortex and underlying white matter. It was photographed at high resolution as part of the Visible Human Project and retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Bark: Stories by Lorrie Moore
Narrated by the author
Blackstone Audio, 2014.  5:20

1 comment:

Sue Jackson said...

Thanks for the in-depth review. I've heard a lot of recommendations of this book, though I rarely read short stories.

I had to set one audio aside this week - it was just too disturbing for me to listen to.


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