One remarkable feature of Lisa Moore’s short story writing is her versatility.
Sometimes her vocabulary is elevated (consider: koan, ferric, sculpin, recalcitrant, scabrous, and histrionic).
Sometimes her subject matter is banal.
With characters chewing their fish and chips on Signal Hill with their mouths full. (“Skywalk”, the final work in the collection, a novella.)
Or taking time to explain how they unload a dishwasher:
“A marriage is this: My husband likes the glasses with the glasses, the cups with the cups. Every morning I unload the dishwasher and put the cups and the glasses together. He comes down and moves the cups.” (“Visitation”)
Her narratives might be action-packed.
With a woman who “just made it to the toilet and what happened there was so violent she knocked her contact lens out”. (“The Fjord of Eternity”)
Other times the narrative is quiet and the momentum is rooted in characterization, the psychological action far more significant:
“The dog, wanting to get in, would paw the glass of the back door. That sound broke through her deafness. Made her come back into her own skin.” (“Skywalk”)
Bleak and grim experiences (whether the fire at the Bay de Verde fish plant or an older woman’s dental crisis) are not leavened with humour. But there is a simmering appreciation of irony which affords readers the chance to catch a breath:
“One side of her face has blown up like a balloon and she is in her seventies and she has, she says, her looks to consider.” (“Lighting Up the Dark”)
(Many of the similes are simple, like this one, but a mutt, “mottled like an old mirror”, ice in a glass “like a rattlesnake” and heat “like cotton batting”? They work.)
Speaking of which, it’s clear that Lisa Moore has spent some substantial time around librarians:
“On the last day of the conference, after the last panel and the closing remarks, twenty thousand librarians pour out of the conference centre, fighting over the cabs outside.” (“The Vipers Revenge”)
For every moose carcass and skinned rabbit, there is a lemon loaf dusted with icing sugar and a needlepoint Santa Claus.
And both the structure and the tone of a story may be altered to reflect the theme, which is one of the reasons “The Challenges and Rewards of Re-entering the Workforce” is such an effective piece.
There are lists “up all over the building so you had to look and see who’d bump you. Or whom you were going to bump” so, in the story, one character bumps into another, shifts the scene, and alters the perspective on what fills our everyday lives.
The sensory detail always adds to a reader’s appreciation of the story, but in a work like “Marconi”, this is the hinge upon which the story swings, for here the detail is overwhelmingly concerned with the other senses and rooted in the visceral, in the quotidian (from “slime-slotted” hacking coughs to a skinned rabbit’s “scrawny purple body webbed all over with skeins of yellow fat”), all in anticipation of the central act of hearing and listening and transmitting and receiving and, well, something nearly-magical.
Lisa Moore’s stories have consistently drawn a variety of readers and her collection Open was nominated for the Giller Prize: Something for Everyone is exceptional and guaranteed to please both new and returning readers.
Contents: A Beautiful Flare, Visitation, The Fjord of Eternity, Marconi, Guard of What, Lovers with the Intensity I’m Talking About, The Challenges and Rewards of Re-entering the Workforce, The Vipers Revenge, Lighting Up the Dark, Skywalk
Edited October 2018: I read this collection/book before it was selected for the 2018 Giller Prize longlist by the jury comprised of Kamal Al-Solaylee, Maxine Bailey, John Freeman, Philip Hensher and Heather O’Neill. Now I am tagging the post as part of my reading for the shadow jury – with Alison and Kim and Naomi – for the 2018 Giller Prize.
Links to reviews from the other Giller Prize 2018 shadow jury members: Alison, Kim and Naomi (links live when available).