Lorrie Moore’s fourth novel in as many decades is a deliberately irresolvable riddle, a missive of uncertain message, and a requiem without repose. It might more straightforwardly be described as a road trip through the ailing American heartlands until, in this venture, too, it runs out of road.
Our traveller is Finn, marooned in the New York hospice where his brother wastes away, until he is summoned home by news of his estranged ex. He is grieved to learn of her death by suicide, aghast at the revelation of her rushed burial, and only mildly surprised by the decision to accompany him, cross-county, on the part of her resurrected corpse.
Set on the eve of Trump’s election, the main narrative is interspersed with the unsent letters of an innkeeper from the aftermath of the Civil War. This may seem a circuitous route through the morbid divisions which ever haunt the American scene, but it is an apt itinerary for a cast of characters who ‘have never been able to find a through line through the indifference of the universe’. The trouble is, it is sometimes a trying journey for the reader, especially as only half the jokes land, and as the progressive decomposition of Finn’s companion lends to it a fetid air of inevitability.
The shorter form is still the better vehicle for Moore’s sparkling prose, but there is enough diffused brilliance here for the reader to enjoy the ride.
Words: Diarmuid McGreal