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Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer
Well, I suppose this was going to happen. And yes, I loved Self-Help and Birds of America just as much as anyone else with a feeling for contemporary literature and a love of funny-sad fiction, but while Lorrie Moore is definitely a good writer and in some ways a great writer, she just has these tendencies. She'll pack a story with too many moving parts, she'll make a pun that's just a little too much, she'll overstretch a metaphor or dial a conceit too far up or just do something wrong. Not often, I'll grant. Those two collections I mentioned above have two, maybe three less than stellar stories between them. Bark has five less than stellar stories and three stories I liked.
Here's what you need to know. The longer these stories are, the better they are. This is a rule. I was especially fond of "Thank You for Having Me," which, like the best Lorrie Moore stories, mixes aspects of the mundane and the off-kilter, throws in a wicked sense of humor, and applies the melancholy at once liberally and strategically. "Wings" was also good; Moore's strong sense of place and ability to create character propel it to success. Not unqualified success, but success just the same. Lastly, while "Bark's" characters are a little too absurd and the humor sometimes a little much, it's in its own evocative and certainly never boring.
Ah, but those other stories are ridden with problem after problem. I won't be as reductive as to call the three long ones the good ones and the five short ones the bad ones, but the short ones could certainly see for improvement. The characters in "The Juniper Tree" don't have even a scrap of believability to them; "Paper Losses" has a few clever ideas in terms of wording, but sinks due to the overstretched space alien metaphor; "Foes'" topicality is downright clunky; and whatever might've happened in "Referential" and "Subject to Search" has sure slipped this reviewer's mind. I won't be quite as hyperbolic as to suggest that Moore's on a downturn, but this certainly makes me miss the ironbound consistency of Self-Help.
Out of 10: 7.1