A Story by a great Contemporary American/Irish Writer
Lorrie Moore (USA, 1957 Irish Born mother) is one of the leading writers of fiction in the USA. She is the author of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital (never read it but you got to love the title) and three highly regarded collections of short stories. In 1998 she won Irish Times Literature Prize for International Fiction for Birds of America. I admit I never heard of her until I began to see her name mentioned by several Irish writers in interviews as one of their favorite contemporary short story writers. Yesterday I was looking through For the Love of Ireland by Susan Cahill (wife of Thomas Cahill the author of How the Irish Saved Civilization, an interesting imperfect book that overlooks the Byzantine Empire but that is for another day). For the Love of Ireland is a very interesting book that is two thirds literary anthology and the rest a travel book in which Cahill tells literary tourists (as I will be one of these days!) how to see the places in the literary works and the lives of the writers. I was very happy to see a perfect for me to read now story by Lorrie Moore in the collection about a mother and her adult daughters tour of Ireland. As Cahill says, it shows Moore's affinity with "dark Irish humor, that mixture of hope and defeat that defines the shape of many Irish writers' art".
I see why so many people love the work of Lorrie Moore from this wonderful story (OK and I admit I wanted to be along for the ride on the mother/daughter tour of all of the Island!) Moore does a great job framing the story and getting us interested with and in-sympathy with both the mother and adult daughter, whose relationship is one of love but not without its troubles.
The daughter works for a company that runs classes that helps American students do well on the standardized tests that students take in their last year of high school that colleges use in determining who gets in, the better the score, the better school you can go to. (Same sort of classes are given here in the Philippines and my oldest two daughters have been to them). She was strictly a back office worker and analyst but she is such a well thought of employee that she has been given a big promotion, which will involve a lot of traveling and public speaking promoting the classes. She has always had a fear of public speaking and when the company offers her an extra vacation as a reward, she, with a push from a kind of domineering seeming mother, decide they will go to Ireland (where the mother has roots) with the mother's idea being the daughter will kiss the Blarney Stone and thus overcome her fear of public speaking.
The story artfully mixes in the life history of the daughter (failed marriage begun to overcome grief over dead dog) with the trip to Ireland. The daughter knows a visit to kiss the Blarney Stone is kind of the lowest form of Irish tourist activity but her Mother insists on it. Moore totally brought the trip alive for me. I felt the excitement when the plane landed at Dublin International. The mother sort of invited herself along on the trip as a driver as they planned to rent a car and only she knew how to drive a car without automatic transmission.
Moore does such a wonderful job describing the Irish countryside it almost hurts me to read it wondering if I will ever really see it.
"Abby saw immediately that to live amid the magic feel of this place would be necessarily to to believe in magic. To live here would make you superstitious, warm-hearted with secrets, unrealistic. If you were literal or practical you would have to move-or you would have to drink".
(OK now I am getting a clue why so much drinking in the Irish short story!)
Moore just does a great job describing the drive around Ireland (Yes I admit I am getting more and more jealous of them!) She really develops the characters and the mother-daughter relationship perfectly. We see how the mother still sees her adult daughter as a child in need of lots of advice (not that the mother is the perfect one to give advise, especially about men) and the daughter kind of likes being back in the role of a child and kind of resents it also. This is all just so perfect I see why everyone loves Moore. Tension mounts as they cross into Northern Island and see all the young men with machines guns patrolling the town. (Sometimes we have had the same situation here in Manila and it is a bit scary to see truck loads of young men barely adults with machine guns in the streets of the city).
The story reaches its peak at the peak of a mountain (I can see why Moore is such a sought after teacher of classes on creative writing) when they get to the Blarney Stone. It is a totally tacky tourist thing with short men wearing leprechaun uniforms etc. We see beneath the mother's mask of bravado/provider of wisdom because of something that happens there.
I really really enjoyed this story. I left it with two things in mind, read the three short story collections of Moore and skip the Blarney stone if I ever make it to Ireland.
Moore teaches at the University of Wisconsin. There is very interesting interview with her on The Paris Review web page
Please share your experiences with Lorrie Moore with us. I shall be returning to her work soon.