“Every day there was something new to mourn and something old to celebrate: civilization had learned this long ago and continued to remind us.” It’s something from the final story in “Bark,” Lorrie Moore’s new collection of short stories, it’s something that infuses all eight of these remarkable stories about loss and how tentatively we process it.
The stories vary in length, with two comprising half of the pages in the volume. In “Debarking,” a newly divorced man finds he must deal with the collateral damage of his failed marriage on the eve of the United States’ invasion of Iraq: “Especially now with all that’s happening, I can’t live without some intimacy, companionship, whatever you want to call it, to face down this global craziness.” In “Wings,” a former musician, whose life hasn’t worked out professionally or personally for years, finds an unexpected path of escape from her unsatisfying life in a growing relationship with an elderly neighbor.
In “Foes,” the author of an “ill-selling” biography of George Washington attends a D.C. fundraiser where his pseudo-liberalism is sorely tested on the eve of the Obama election. The couple in “Paper Losses,” married for two decades and now “partners only in anger and dislike, their old lusty love mutated to rage,” embarks on a family vacation to La Caribe.
Reunited with a dead colleague she intended to visit in the hospital, a teacher in “The Juniper Tree” offers her friend’s ghost a startling rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In “Referential,” a mother visiting her unstable son in a mental institution discovers herself powerless to control his situation — or hers.
As the music of Michael Jackson plays in “Thank You for Having Me,” a wedding is interrupted by a biker gang and a mother and her teenage daughter find themselves at loose ends. In “Subject to Search,” a dying man who “moonlighted in the international intrigue business” and a woman who has been in and out of his life exchange quips rather than intimacies as they reminisce about their former “life” together.
In each story, people are at dead ends, wanting to reconnect — or connect — to someone, anyone. Yet, thanks to Moore’s understanding and generosity of spirit, each story is also about moving on. “Bark” is a quietly brilliant, deeply evocative collection on the baffling idea of “moving on.” As one of her characters remind us: “You shouldn’t use people as human shields. Or — I don’t know — maybe you should.”
Steven Whitton is an English professor at Jacksonville State University.