You can’t think about Lorrie Moore without thinking about humor; her work is suffused with it — absurd, true-to-life weird thoughts, strange juxtapositions, unusual situations and witty punch lines, all threaded through stories that are generally dark and filled with pain. A reader can feel almost guilty, laughing out loud at one of her stories about human suffering.
At last week’s Talk of the Stacks, Moore read aloud “Thank You for Having Me,” the last story in her new collection, “Bark.” It’s a story that takes place at a wedding, but it’s also a story laced with regret and dread and the shadow of death. The audience laughed. They couldn’t help it. It was funny!
Later in the evening, in conversation with novelist Ellen Akins (who reviewed “Bark” for the Star Tribune), Moore talked about her use of humor, something Akins said makes her work endearing.
“Sometimes I inject it; sometimes it emerges,” Moore said. “I listen to how people talk. People are funny. People are really, really funny.” As Moore also was, often, during the course of the evening — sometimes at the expense of serious answers to questions.
When Akins asked about an earlier interview, in which Moore suggested that her students put a ghost in their stories, Moore raised her eyebrows, made a comical face, and said, “That sounds like a teacher who’s going to get fired.”
One question from the audience seemed to make her cranky. “How do you learn to write saleable fiction?” came a voice from the back of Pohlad Hall, and Moore responded, “Oh, I don’t know. If I knew that, I would have a summer house.”
Another person asked about the moment when Moore knew she was a writer. “I never thought about it in those terms,” Moore said. “I think it’s always better to do the thing rather than to focus on the identity.” She mentioned a friend, also a writer, who believes it’s important to wake up every morning and say to herself, “I am a writer!”
“I have never woken up and said that,” Moore said. “I wake up and say, ‘Where’s the coffee?’ And then I can write.”
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune books editor. On Twitter @StribBooks.