How to write like Lorrie Moore

I recently spent an inspiring day with the Faber Academy, under the expert eye of Hannah Griffiths, whose authors include Rachel Cusk, Barbara Kingsolver and Lorrie Moore. Among her strict edicts for developing writers — adverbs are, indeed, evil — was this: if any book opens with dust motes, stop reading. Why? Because everyone notices dust motes. The job of the writer is to notice the things that other people don’t. And one of the very best writers in the world today is Lorrie Moore, whose latest novel A Gate at the Stairs, I devoured in one sitting last weekend. Moore — or at least her narrator, the witty, spiky Tassie Keltjin — gives us a masterclass in noticing the things that others don’t, so here are five of my favourites:

“I had one elegantly folded fortune cookie — a short paper nerve baked in an ear.”

“The woman of the house opened the door … Her hair was cropped short and dyed the fashionable bright auburn of a ladybug. Her earrings were buttons of deepest orange, her leggings mahogany, her sweater rust-colored, and her lips maroonish brown. She looked like a highly controlled oxidation experiment.”

“We had once had an ebullient pig named Helen, who would come when you called her name and smiled like a dolphin when you spoke to her.”

“Walking home I passed a squirrel that had been hit by car. Its soft, scarlet guts spilled out of its mouth as if in a dialogue balloon, and the wind gently blew the fur of its tail, as if it were still alive.”

“In my apartment the radiators hissed and the windows were frosted deep into the mullions from the steam that hit them and froze. In the room I kicked off my boots and my socks came with them, my toes sore and as knobbed as Chinese ginger.”

And if that’s not enough to make you want to read more of Tassie, try this:

“My roommate, Murph, had done all the dating … She had bequeathed me her vibrator, a strange swirling, buzzing thing that when switched to high gyrated in the air like someone’s bored finger going whoop-dee-doo. Whose penis could this possibly resemble? Someone who had worked in a circus perhaps! Maybe Burt Lancaster’s in Trapeze. I kept the thing on the kitchen counter where Murph had left it for me and occasionally I used it to stir my chocolate milk.”


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