Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fan Letter to Lorrie Moore

Dear Lorrie Moore (it’s impossible for me to address you any other way),

Last night I read Go Like This and was bulldozed and bouleversed. It’s high time I write this fan letter. It’s something I do, risking sounding obsessed and crazed. (If it’s any consolation I have gotten responses from Jayanti Tamm, Daniel Pink and David Carr, and that has encouraged me to keep writing fan letters—lest you think I am around the corner, stalking you in a haze.)

You have dislodged something in me. I must tell you about it, if only as a tiny prayer sent out into the universe, an act of worship that expects nothing in return—for that’s what a fan letter is—an ersatz receptacle for all the spinning gratitude wound up in me when I read or see or hear something original (God, what else can one do with that feeling but give thanks and create?).

I admit: I had never heard of you until 2009. I read a brilliant article about you in Harper’s. I was on the bus and when I got home I went online to pre-order A Gate at the Stairs and that Saturday I sat in the quiet room of my local public library for hours with Birds of America and then checked it out anyway. I took it home in my bike basket thinking, “Lorrie Moore, where have you been all my life?” I feel at home when I read your work.

So Tassie arrived on my doorstep one fall day in the generic but branded Amazon box and I read. And—spoiler alert—I didn’t think I liked what happened to her. At one point I got stuck thinking of her as Ellen Page and then wanted to reject her outright. And later I felt my own defenses rising up because “Sounds good” is my answer to everything, and yes, I am a Midwestern girl. I fell hard and fast for the girl, having studied at the University of Iowa, and I made Troy into Iowa City with no difficulty (restaurants, storage units, and all). I had confusing conversations about the book with my friend Zach who tried to convince me that I, in fact, loved it. I thought I didn’t.

But then I went and bought every book of yours I could find. They all came together, again in an Amazon box on my doorstep. By now it was November and the books, all in their matching re-print editions with that same great picture of you on the back—they were cold and sleek and all stacked up, sitting, holy, on my kitchen table for a while until they were shelved according to my 2010 reading schedule.

February came and this is what dislodged me—for twenty-one years previous I had been able to say unequivocally that my favorite book was The Pigman by Paul Zindel. I never wavered. I never had two favorite books or some sideways qualification by genre or some plug for what I was currently reading. (When I was in library school I took this great course at the Library of Congress called History of the Book and the professor made us go-around-the-room on Day 1 and each say our favorite book and the last non-school book we’d read. Imagine—a bunch of librarians and most of them fumbled to answer both questions. I guess we truly are the “new wave next generation” of information activists or whatever, with our nose pierces and iPhones, but seriously! Can’t name a favorite book? When it was my turn I said without hesitation, “The Pigman by Paul Zindel is my favorite book, and the last non-school book I read was The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.” This was 2008 and I had not yet encountered Lorrie Moore.)

Now I am stuck. I am stuck with two favorites because I read Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? and I cannot dislodge it. I cannot go back. (I’m more Berie than Tassie and, oh, I have a friend named Helki whom you’d like.) Two favorite books? I am getting used to it. I am aware of the parallels in the stories and, although I don’t spend much time with actual frogs or pigs, I am getting used to letting the pair of titles roll together off my tongue when asked, in an analog setting, what my favorite book is. I’d had the same answer since age 12. Now, something has changed. Not only has the one stable thing since my adolescence been dislodged, but these two books, with their characters’ painful mistakes and authentic defenses, say more than I would like about my thirty-three year-old psyche. However, I am a compulsive truthteller, and a person who wants honesty with herself above all else, so I had to thank you for writing and dislodging this thing in me.

The other night in a food poisoning-induced fever dream, I dreamt that you had died, and when I got up to check the news it was only that War Dances had won. I wonder if you care or what it means. I wonder whether these fan letters mean anything or why it should matter to me. This is just a thing to create because I read Go Like This last night and what could I do in my suburban bedroom except plan to get up at the crack of dawn to write this? What else could I do with myself? I lay awake and cataloged the bland media of the 80s that taught me about cancer and suicide, considered archetypes, remembered Elizabeth Perkins and William Hurt dancing in The Doctor, but really, I don’t really know someone with cancer, or someone who committed suicide. Those are public service announcements to me. When I read your story it seemed, I don’t know, real? Again, I felt at home reading that. For whatever reason, or maybe none at all.

Keep writing, please. The world needs you, not more Lorrie Moores, just the one that you embody, so please keep writing. But if it all comes to an end, as things do, I’m told, then I will just say thank you, and I will continue to say thank you outside of my fan letters. For tucking me in and wigging me out, and for creating that space where I look for my mind.

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