Lorrie Moore, the generous critic

The characters in Lorrie Moore’s fiction – from the story collections “Self-Help” (1985) and “Like Life” (1990) to her novels “Who Will Run Frog Hospital?” (1994) and “A Gate at the Stairs” (2009) – are intelligent, sympathetic, and witty sometimes to the point of acerbic.

Her upcoming book of reviews and essays, “See What Can Be Done,” highlights a more generous character: Lorrie Moore the reader.

In more than 60 of her reviews and essays — many from The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books — Moore explores, analyses, weighs up, all with an openness to the work at hand. Interlaced with pieces about politics and current affairs, there are reviews of books by John Cheever, Amos Oz, Ann Beattie, Donald Barthelme, Richard Ford, Darryl Pickney, Peter Cameron, three pieces about Alice Munro, and many others -- a reader's dream.

From my interview with Moore for The Washington Post, here's one of my favorite exchanges:

Carole Burns: I am wondering if, in conversation at work or with friends, if you come up with the witty, biting repartee we all wish we'd thought of on the spot, or if, like the rest of us, you think of them the next day - or when you're writing.

Lorrie Moore: I don’t think of there being witty, biting repartee in my work or my life. My recollection is that there are mishearings and misunderstandings, slips and falls into the cracks of disconnection, and general awkwardness. There is despair that rises up and causes the mind to go to forbidden places. Humor is almost always an accident or a desire to be kind and jolly and one can discover it all around—in the world of one's fiction and outside of it as well. As for my friends—we are all brilliant and amusing when not tired.

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