on 14 March 2017
In her third short story collection published in the late 90s, Moore's characters, many of them women, are noticeably older than those in her earlier works and traversing that fine line between fading hope of ever finding meaningful connection and hopeless determination to survive the rest of their lives regardless.
Hiding behind irreverent humour and as a kind of protective shield, these characters stumble eyes wide open into relationships that they've already seen the trajectory towards failure in their mind's eye, as ageing minor actress Sidra does with an auto-mechanic, in "Willing", and sidesteps her friend's caution that it's "a forced relationship. You're in a state of stress -you're in a syndrome". Her reaction is a flippant joke, "I want to sleep with someone. When I'm sleeping with someone, I'm less obsessed with the mail."
But the redemptive power of connection in subtle ways does slip through despite the general darker moods of these stories. In the titular story, the narrator is a dance teacher who starts off with these lofty lines about her craft, that "dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom... it's the body reaching, bringing air to itself.... that it's the heart's triumph, the victory speech of the feet, the refinement of animal lunge and flight...", before acknowledging that she made all this stuff up. However, during her visit to her old friend Cal and his chronically ill son, Eugene, she sees for herself the kind of love Cal has when he talks about Eugene, that touches her deeply: "I cannot imagine anything in my life that contains such sorrow as this, anticipation of missing someone". By the end of the story when she grabs Eugene when they dance haphazardly to a Kenny Loggins song, her notion of dance has changed, and its become a symbol, a statement of life seized that she now truly believes in: "I am thinking of the dancing body's magnificent and ostentatious scorn. This is how we offer ourselves, enter heaven, enter speaking: we say with motion, in space. This is what life's done so far down here; this is all and what and everything it's managed - this body, the bodies, that body - so what do you think, Heaven?"
The social conventions of shared suffering are explored in "People Like That Are the Only People Here" where a young mother finds herself inexplicably thrown into a hospital waiting room community of fellow sufferers when her baby is warded for a tumour. There is a certain grim determination and social code that these parents share, which a visiting friend notices as "scripted optimism". It is the one story in this collection that borders on autobiography when we find a metafictive dimension in the unnamed mother's identity as a writer, whom her husband now soberly asks to write in anticipation of the medical expenses they need to fork out. By the end of the story, the postscript "These are the notes. Now where is the money?" sounds all too much like the character stepping out of the frame to confront the reader as the author, leaving us to reel from the shock of a story that might not after all be all fiction.
Moore's focus on motherhood takes another slant in the last story, "Terrific Mother". Within the first page, the reader learns of the horrific accident at the stage of Adrienne's life she calls the "puritanical decade, a demographic moment - whatever it was - when the best compliment you could get was, "You would make a terrific mother. The wolf whistle of the nineties". Suffice to say the accident is enough to send Adrienne into a reclusive depression that her partner, Martin tries to get her out of by taking her to a villa in Italy set up for researchers and scholars as well as their spouses. In the midst of all the intellectual dinner conversations that Adrienne (and I suspect Moore herself) makes fun of, she finds catharsis (though not just quite) in a series of massages by the enigmatic Ilke. How Adrienne eventually finds redemption is subtle and unexpected, and doled out in small gestures that are ultimately what Moore is best at, and best sum up the strength of this collection. Significance in the small things.