Devoted readers of Lorrie Moore will find her unfailingly distinct style in the brief and deeply empathetic "I Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home."
Moore's latest novel is elegiac and funny, consumed with both the process of dying and the act of remembering. Finn visits his brother, Max, in a New York City hospice, stumbling into the beginnings of grief. His internal asides often glint with humor, a relief from the thick sorrow of the hospice room. They also summon the terror of the mind's limitations.
"What is good?" Finn thinks. "All it meant was that your zip code was a fortunate one and your metabolism was not bollixed." During his visit, Finn alludes to his partner Lily's suicidal ideation. "'Wants to die?' echoed Max. 'Get her in here. We'll show her how.'" When Max, from his presumed deathbed, expresses pity for Finn, Moore writes, "Life's craziness suddenly filled the room like juice to drink." She takes this "craziness" as her subject, and the lives on these pages become increasingly hard to believe, until belief is clearly not the point.
The pith and wit one expects from Moore are here, along with the wordplay, the seemingly tangential reveries, and the bursts of wonder at the beauty of the quotidian, such as Finn, "homesick for their childhood together: that feeling of being in your flip-flops and swimsuits on a hot asphalt parking lot at the supermarket, waiting for your mother to hurry up."
Waiting is the brothers' primary activity, and soon Finn begins to fill the space with talk. A suspended history teacher at a private school, he begins to rant — not about the students, but about the world into which they will graduate. "How can we persuade them that school, college, work, work, work is what we should be doing? But everyone is buying it," he says.
In contrast, Max and Finn buy nothing. They tell jokes, recalling their pasts.
When Finn is called to manage the aftermath of Lily's death back in Ohio, Moore trades long, acerbic oratory for rapid, silent thought. As Finn drives, he considers his inability to pick out constellations. "Everything," Moore writes, "was just wheeling glitter tossed on a coat."
This work is interested in patterns — how people impose them for comfort, how hard they are to see. There is a kind of echo, or repetition, in the form of old confessional letters from an innkeeper to her dead sister, written around the time of the Civil War. The letters intersect with the contemporary story during a grisly reunion between Finn and his late partner.
As Max's death draws closer, the parameters of realism quiver and collapse in "Homeless," but Finn's detour with Lily cannot deter the inevitable. At his brother's funeral, Finn wonders, "Did anyone really know what the story of a human life ever was?" Here, Moore offers a richly textured vision of those stories.
Jackie Thomas-Kennedy, whose writing has appeared in American Short Fiction and Harvard Review, is a former Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
I Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home
By: Lorrie Moore.
Publisher: Knopf, 208 pages, $27.