Friday, September 29, 2006

Reviewing the Reviewer - Lorrie Moore

Cleverly, in reviewing the new biography of Eudora Welty (New York Review, Sept 21 2006), Lorrie Moore insinuates herself into Welty’s grande dame category of writer. Her second paragraph makes the blithe skip from Welty to Anne Tyler, who while opening the door to reporters in the wake of the announcement of her Pulitzer Prize victory, told them she was working and sent them away. The southern part of her opened the door. The Midwestern part sent them away. ‘Personally,’ Lorrie Moore writes, ‘if I saw strangers approaching my door, I would probably phone 911. Despite two southern grandfathers and a childhood during which I was told I was “half-southern,” it is quite possible I do not have a southern bone in my body.’

So Moore’s autobiography elides with her review of Welty’s life story. Sweetly we watch her approach Welty’s house for a snapshot, unwilling to knock on the door as locals say she should. Locals say Welty is welcoming to all, but ‘I knew that no writer in her writer’s heart welcomes impromptu visits from writers she doesn’t know.’

In such a way Moore’s very opening paragraph announces that she has the inside scoop on being a writer. Later we hear how ‘Having as a young writer befriended two literary grande dames (Katherine Ann Porter and Bowen) she gamely stepped forward when her time came.’ So having entwined her own young life with Welty’s, she gamely acknowledges the responsibilities that are set to ensue.

Lorrie Moore had name recognition with me before this, but I had never read her. Now I shall make sure to, for the one clearest way in which I see her stepping into the lineage of welt & Co. is the very fine way in which she writes. Observations stand out as true. Sentences stand out as clean and lucid.

The biographer Suzanne Marrs claims that an early fictional character of Welty’s is “aka Eudora” … ‘as if a fictional character were an alias, or someone the author is doing business as,’ Moore remarks. ‘Oh, well: it is a hazard of literary biography that few have avoided. Still, the phrase “aka Eudora,” it seems to me, sets a new rhetorical standard for refusing even to try.’

Here’s a crisp one-liner. ‘Welty seemed to love any populated room that did not have Carson McCullers in it.’

Her literary observations are clear-eyed, affectionate and unsentimental. Welty ‘will be remembered for a handful of writings—which is really all any writer, even a great one, can hope for.’ [On this point, I myself wonder sometimes if writers might be awarded grants on condition they limit themselves to the production of five books.]

Lorrie Moore delivers a splendid punchline to her piece. ‘Literary biography is like detective fiction for those who don’t need suspense.’

So I look forward to a book of Moore’s stories. In the meantime she has prompted me to take Eudora Welty’s ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’ down off the shelf here in France—a success by any reviewer’s standard.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Paul Dorell said...

This comment is a bit late, but I read Moore’s article when it came out and thought I'd get in my two cents' worth anyway. Moore snagged a "grande dame" role for herself years ago by becoming a lit-crit favorite. Up to now she has lead the field in a specialized sub-genre that features depressed women who make witty puns. Her upcoming novel, "A Gate at the Stairs," may also feature depressed women who make witty puns (n.b. her previous novels may not technically meet the formal definition of novels).

I'm not sure why anyone would think that Eudora Welty was a good writer. Photographer maybe? In my opinion, "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" is far better than anything by Welty that I've read.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Paul Dorell said...

This comment is a bit late, but I read Moore’s article when it came out and thought I'd get in my two cents' worth anyway. Moore snagged a "grande dame" role for herself years ago by becoming a lit-crit favorite. Up to now she has lead the field in a specialized sub-genre that features depressed women who make witty puns. Her upcoming novel, "A Gate at the Stairs," may also feature depressed women who make witty puns (n.b. her previous novels may not technically meet the formal definition of novels).

I'm not sure why anyone would think that Eudora Welty was a good writer. Photographer maybe? In my opinion, "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" is far better than anything by Welty that I've read.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Paul Dorell said...

This comment is a bit late, but I read Moore’s article when it came out and thought I'd get in my two cents' worth anyway. Moore snagged a "grande dame" role for herself years ago by becoming a lit-crit favorite. Up to now she has lead the field in a specialized sub-genre that features depressed women who make witty puns. Her upcoming novel, "A Gate at the Stairs," may also feature depressed women who make witty puns (n.b. her previous novels may not technically meet the formal definition of novels).

I'm not sure why anyone would think that Eudora Welty was a good writer. Photographer maybe? In my opinion, "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" is far better than anything by Welty that I've read.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Paul Dorell said...

This comment is a bit late, but I read Moore’s article when it came out and thought I'd get in my two cents' worth anyway. Moore snagged a "grande dame" role for herself years ago by becoming a lit-crit favorite. Up to now she has lead the field in a specialized sub-genre that features depressed women who make witty puns. Her upcoming novel, "A Gate at the Stairs," may also feature depressed women who make witty puns (n.b. her previous novels may not technically meet the formal definition of novels).

I'm not sure why anyone would think that Eudora Welty was a good writer. Photographer maybe? In my opinion, "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" is far better than anything by Welty that I've read.

3:38 PM  

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