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Credit: Read, Sav, Read. 

While I have read quite a few of Lorrie Moore’s short stories, this was my first time to read an entire collection of her work. Self-Help, confronts the ugliness of the human experience. Through her use of recurring themes, defense mechanism rooted uses of humor, and an experimental use of syntax, Moore crafted an effective thematic conversation. The stories within Self-Help speak to one another through the repetition of circumstances, dialogue, tone, and point of view. My own relationship with writing has evolved since reading Moore’s book.


Throughout the book, mental illness, cancer, loss, and unhealthy relationships appear continuously. Lynnie’s mother in “What Is Seized” and Liz in “Go Like This” reflect mental illness. Lynnie’s mother and Liz also share a second parallel of breast cancer. The theme of loss came up with death and the ending of relationships. While on the subject of relationships, this book had a plethora of unhealthy ones. From a love affair to a divorced couple, to mothers and daughters, to a husband who applauds his wife’s decision to end her life, Moore’s offering interesting, though messy, relationships is a constant in her work. Moore’s second person point of view offered an instructive tone, which worked effectively with the book’s title of Self-Help. Moore often instructs the reader, who is assumed to be in the same situation as her character, to say something. An example of this can be seen in the quotation, “Say: I’m going to bed now” (Moore 52). Books that fall into the self-help genre act as instructive guides to harnessing control over your life and how you choose to react to events in your life. She contradicts this genre by describing real, raw life situations where the characters act in ways that ironically oppose what a self-help book would tell them to do. These are all characters that need help, beyond the aid a self-help book could ever offer, but they all made bad choices while choosing to handle them lightly, with humor. When Moore has her character show how uncomfortable and sad they’re really feeling on the inside, she uses humor as a defense mechanism. In one way, this characterizes the person for the reader and allows us to empathize with what they’re feeling. At the same time, it gives us a sort of permission slip to not take everything so seriously and laugh at the chaos that comes with being alive. In terms of experimental syntax, Moore is unique and original with her use of colons and sentence structure. An example of her use of colons, aside from her instructions for the readers to say something, can be found in the following quotation: “Olga is getting cheeky: Perhaps the time has come for you to learn to need people, Liz” (Moore 76). Moore’s pacing with her sentence structure is interesting because she employs patterns with her use of short sentences in relationship to long sentences. When she isn’t using a short sentence, she uses a long sentence in between even though it is typically broken up to read jerky, as if it, too, is a short sentence. To put this into effect, she uses an excessive amount of commas. An example of this is, “We are dealing, she continues, with a mind, as Williams put it, like a bed all made up” (Moore 71). Overall, Lorrie Moore’s Self-Help gave me a new understanding of originality, humor, and interconnectedness among themes. I will definitely be seeking out even more of Lorrie Moore’s work.

You can purchase Self-Help here.

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