alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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‘Childcare’ by Lorrie Moore

Paul sent me this story because, he said, the voice reminded him of my stories. Because I am trying to do my duty by the short story, and because I am desperate–not so much to know how my writing looks to others but how it would look to me if only I could see it–I read it over last Saturday’s breakfast.

Reading fiction I admire, I sometimes fall into fits of despair because I know, deeply, that I could never write sentences like the ones on the page. They just wouldn’t come out of me like that. The arrangement of words is unexpected, the content unfamiliar, the tone rotated 15 degrees, and it is a million light years from anything that would occur to me. I end up thinking ‘If this is good and I can’t do it, then what I can do must not be good.’

Children by josefnovak33/flickr

Children by josefnovak33/flickr

The first sentence of ‘Childcare’ is:

“The cold came late that fall, and the songbirds were caught off guard.”

This is a sentence I can imagine myself writing. Score one for Paul.

Other possible similarities I can see would be in the humor (I loved the bit where she uses her roommate’s vibrator to stir her chocolate milk. I would do that to a character.) and the way people talk across each other, making motions through conversations without ever really connecting, and possibly the end, where I was not sure exactly what had happened (or failed to happen) but I was sure it was bad. Long, sad, inevitable and to be endured. So, what do you think, Paul, were these the things you meant? (It will be perfect if you say ‘Not at all’.)

Other things I noticed about the story was how slow it started off, with the main character meandering around the cold winter streets, something I would be prone to do, but which I would feel was not permitted. I talked about this story with another writer this morning, and she had the same reservations. Because we are amateurs, we don’t know–is it still wrong if someone famous does it, if it is published in the New Yorker?

I was annoyed by the early passage describing the narrator’s Midwestern background, the menu & customs in the German restaurant, how the wines came in ‘red, white, or pink’.  It seemed not only too easy to make fun of these things (an amuse bouche of smug satisfaction for sophisticated New Yorker readers before the main course of yuppie adoption ennui?) but too knowing for the naive and protected voice of the narrator.

Did I like the story? With short stories I can never tell. I laughed a few times. I recognized the characters as people I have seen, if not known. But I don’t know if that adds up to enjoyment.