In Bark’s second story, ‘The Juniper Tree’, an unnamed narrator sings ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ with calculated slowness to alter ‘not just the attitude of the song but the actual punctuation, turning it into a protest and question’. Lorrie Moore’s writing career to date strikes a similar counterbalance between form and content: irrepressible linguistic exuberance tempers – and sometimes even succeeds in confuting – an essentially saturnine world view.
Bark gathers together eight stories published by Moore since 2003 in literary magazines such as the New Yorker, Paris Review, and Granta. There is a conspicuous absence of formal experimentation in these stories compared with the ones in her first collection, Self-Help (1985), which play with a variety of structural frameworks and use the second person almost exclusively. The exceptions are ‘Wings’ and ‘Referential’, which are clever revisions of Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove and Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Signs and Symbols’ respectively. In ‘Wings’, Kate Croy becomes KC, who, like her precursor, proves to be very good at waiting. In ‘Referential’ – a title that names the specific type of mania the son in Nabokov’s story suffers from and also looks and sounds a lot like ‘reverential’, which is what Moore is being here – a wrong number presents an opportunity for misreading and therefore a trap, though this time for a character rather than the reader.