Bark by Lorrie Moore is a brilliant compilation of short stories that revolve around the changing dynamic of relationships today. What Moore does brilliantly is capture the elusive feeling of being with someone while also being lost, as one of her characters declares: “That was the only happiness in life, to choose your own unhappiness.” This feeling is present in all her characters, the feeling that happiness is just within reach, yet unreachable.
All of Moore’s characters seem to be searching for something unattainable: love long lost, the end to an endless war, youth in old age, and so on. Moore is able to capture this feeling of disillusionment. Her characters leave words unspoken and feelings unknown. While reading, one feels like pushing the characters to go after what they want, anything to avoid this endless circle of searching, but at the same time, their goals seem elusive. A father, recently divorced, searches for love in the only person he finds. A wife—and mother—predicts that her husband has become a space alien because they have become so distant from one another. A woman, who searches for meaning in music, finds it in the old man next door. All of these characters have rich backgrounds that Moore is able to convey not through descriptions, but phrases and feelings.
Every player has a preoccupation with violence and destruction; vividly encompassing the ever-present feeling of apocalypse present today. One couple, former hippies, used to be against destruction and pro-love but have now let that love fade and replaced it with intense hate. This relationship between romance and destruction conveys a feeling of impending doom that Americans tend to feel nowadays. These short stories show all forms of destruction, war, terrorist attacks, class separation, and cancer while starkly comparing them to the destructiveness of modern relationships. The parents are not the only disillusioned ones in this book; the children also seem lost. They feel destruction most acutely because they have directly experienced it from their own parents. These children are older than their years and do not really understand why all of this destruction is occurring around them, but they accept it and push forward.
One can easily become lost in the inward ramblings of each character. Moore continually slips in and out of the conscious state to inner thoughts and feelings. These philosophical ramblings sometimes take you outside of the story. They are brilliantly written, but at times are out of context for the narrative. This may be intentional, though. The characters are lost and are attempting to discover who they are again, and some philosophizing may be necessary to accomplish this. They do not really understand the world around them any more than anyone else does. They are unreliable narrators because they are only viewing the world from their pigeon-holed perspective. In their search for self-fulfillment, they become somewhat selfish and misguided. This, in itself, may be why the characters are creating destruction at all. They do not really understand themselves and therefore cannot understand the destruction they are causing.
While these stories differ in their main players and storylines, they all share a common theme of disillusionment and destruction. Moore perfectly captures the downward spiral of a relationship and how humans are able to lose themselves, and yet also find themselves, in such affairs. As you get caught up in each individual story, you will find yourself understanding the human consciousness, learning how to love a little more, and learning how to hate a little less.
Lorrie Moore is a prolific writer of short story compilations including Self-Help (2007), Like–Life (2002), and Birds of America (1999). She has also written three novels, Anagrams (1986), Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1994), and A Gate at the Stairs (2009). Most of Moore’s novels revolve around destructive relationships and terminal illness mixed with humorous commentary. Moore currently lives in New York. She has been publishing her works since 1985.