Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Revisiting Lisa Moore’s Short Fiction

For years, a set of loose photocopied pages were housed on my bookshelf with the M’s. (Do you do this, too?)

Then, they were tucked inside my copy of Lisa Moore’s Alligator: her short story “Azalea”, which first appeared in the March/April 2002 issue of THIS Magazine.

House of Anansi, 2012Cover illustration: Genevieve Simms

I was first drawn to her stories with Degrees of Nakedness in 1998.

It must have been a combination of cover image, blurb and title.

I was big on browsing in those days, and I don’t recall seeing Moore read from her work until she had published Open.

(That was in 2002, though I saw her at Eden Mills and I’m not sure that was the same year: all those lovely readings on the hillsides have blurred together.)

But, honestly, I was not big on these stories.

I read stories by Alice Munro and Timothy Findley, but I hadn’t yet discovered the short story collections that would show me how differently a writer might  manage those few pages.

In the next couple of years I discovered that Carol Shields wrote stories, too — I’d only read her novels — and Bronwen Wallace and Katherine Mansfield.

But, until then, my ideas about stories did not leave room for the kind of thing that Lisa Moore’s stories took to heart.

(I expected five segments that could be drawn like a graph in a presentation, with an immediately identifiable peak, thanks to Mrs. Cunningham’s tenth-grade English class)

And, really, what Lisa Moore’s stories take to heart is heart. They make their own rhythm, insist on their own pace — careening between exhilaration and repose — while examining relationships, loves and losses.

But, then, there was “Azalea”. And then there were a number of interviews with the author, whose thoughts on writing always left me nodding my head. And there was this lovely AList edition. So I prepared to re-read.

These are stories which, as is described in Nipple of Paradise”, document non-epiphanies.

(Ah, see, with that, I remembered Mrs. Cunningham’s class; I believed that a short story came with an epiphany, like a Peanut Buster Parfait comes with layers of hot fudge sauce.)

There is a lot of emotional tension in these stories, but not a lot of external action (for that, Russell Wangersky’s collection is fantastic though, in my opinion: you can identify the peaks therein, but they might not appear where one would expect them to).

“She is part of the gushing collide of loves and hates and non-moments of my life that is just now thrown into sharp relief.”

Non-epiphanies. Non-moments. (None of the deliberateness of a five-step-short-story-construction, not in this story, “Natural Parents” either.)

And, in these non-moments, there is a lot of loneliness, sorrow, fear, and desperation.

As in “Haloes”, when the narrator describes a man as “someone else whose pain I brushed up against accidentally”. (This phrase could have appeared in several of the stories.)

And, yet, there are many moments of beauty, even simply in the author’s use of language. The images are uncomplicated and evocative.

The “sky blisters with rain”; birth is “a pure wordless thing”; an adolescent girl’s bathing suit seems to her to be transparent as the skin of a grape you peel with your teeth”; the “chain-link [fence] is furred over with snow”; at dusk, there is “light withdrawing from the pavement; and a daughter’s hair is the “colour and smell of unripe corn”.

The stories offer a view of the world careening between the random and the deliberate.

“He is this; she is that. They are an invention of randomness. Relationship as lackadaisical conspiracy against. Against what? A situation not entirely without romance. But bracing, a hailstorm, a do-si-do on black ice.” (“Azalea”)

And, in every instance, there is talk of love.

(I am reminded of the interview I listened to recently, with Jeanette Winterson, on the World Book Club, in which she was asked to choose three words that would define her life, and the first that she chose was ‘love’. I hadn’t discovered her in 1998 yet, either.)

“She had a do-good work ethic toward love. It was something you hammered, chainsawed, sized up with a spirit level, until it was absolutely durable and true. Along with something less substantial, a blithe, unexamined faith, airy as a cloud, that things were meant to be. There had never been a need to reconcile these conflicting notions.” (“Grace”)

Now that I have a published copy of “Azalea”, I thought of dropping the copied pages into the bin, or sticking them into an envelope for a reading friend, but instead I slipped them inside the cover of my AList collection.

These loose sheets remind me that one reads and loves differently throughout a lifetime. What makes up a story. What makes up a life. It cannot be charted: it’s inherently unpredictable.

Just as the characters in these stories consider their changing relationships with each other, I am reminded of my changing relationship with the printed page.

What books have made you reconsider your relationship with their pages? Or, have you thought of re-reading something in particular, to see if your affections have altered?

*** *** ***

The collection in House of Anansi’s new AList edition includes stories from Degrees of Nakedness and Open:

Lisa Moore

Lisa Moore

“The Package”
“Nipple of Paradise”
“Sea Urchin”
“Degrees of Nakedness”
“Purgatory’s Wild Kingdom”
“The Lonely Goatherd”
“Haloes”
“Melody”
“Mouths, Open”
“The Way the Light Is”
“Craving”
“Natural Parents”
“Close Your Eyes”
“Azalea”
“If You’re There”
“The Stylist”
“Grace”
“All Zoos Everywhere”

*** *** ***
Project Notes:
Day 32 of 45: This is the last of the posts on this theme. Tomorrow? Something new. Well, actually, a backlisted title, but a new theme. Curious?

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3 comments to Revisiting Lisa Moore’s Short Fiction

  • I am not sure that this is the collection for me. I am usually okay with a little metaphor int he short stories I read, but the fact that this collection is so metaphor heavy might bother me. Some of the imagery that you speak of is highly intriguing, but I am thinking that I probably wouldn’t be wowed with this one.

  • Sandra

    A few years ago,I could not even contemplate reading short stories. Then there were some of the authors you mention above that I became quite fond of, particularly Alice Munro and Timothy Findley. This past summer Katherine Mansfield was added to my “favourites” list and I discovered Virginia Woolf’s The New Dress in which Clarissa Dalloway appears. And before the Giller awards this year I read the Wangursky collection you refer to and thoroughly enjoyed it as well as My Life Among the Apes by Cary Fagan. I think I might almost have become a short story reader! On your recommendation I have read Azalea, Haloes and Natural Parents. Azalea is my favourite so far. I really like Bethany’s list of things that matter in life: “a coddled egg, boiled wool, fresh sheets,doeskin gloves, ironed shirts,old-fashioned beans, table butter, the farmer’s market.” And I loved the paragraph that begins with a housefly caught between the kitchen window panes and which contains this delightful gem: “She’d felt the supreme effort that casual intimacy exacts.” There was some adjustment required for me but that was made quickly and it is worth finding a new fresh voice. I have, incidentally read Moore’s novel, February and want to reread it.

  • Zibilee – I may have misrepresented the use of metaphor, for the collection is quite long and they are scattered throughout, so that alone might not be as much of a problem for you as it seems from what I’ve written here. But, having said that, knowing something of your preferences, I’m not convinced that you would enjoy all the stories either. But, having said THAT, I bet her novel, February, would appeal to you greatly!

    Sandra – Oh that is a delightful gem, and it demonstrates up one of the qualities that I most admire about her fiction, her use of ordinary words to express something that feels vaguely true but, then, when you read it over a couple of times, its resonance grows and it feels like true wisdom dressed in everyday language. I hadn’t read her novel, February, when I read these stories, but I have, since, and I loved it too.

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