Lorrie Moore is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt and the author of four story collections and three novels. Her most recent novel is A Gate at the Stairs and her most recent collection of stories is Bark.
 (February 2016)

TV: The Shame of Wisconsin

Steven Avery after his arrest in 1985 for a crime he did not commit, and for which he spent eighteen years in prison; from Making a Murderer
One cannot watch Making a Murderer without thinking of the adage that law is to justice what medicine is to immortality. The path of each is a little crooked and always winds up wide of the mark. Moreover, nothing is as vain and self-regarding as the law.

Sympathy for the Devil

Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell in the second season of True Detective
When True Detective aired last year on HBO it was squarely in the familiar trope of two guys getting to know each other on the job, doing some squabbling, some drinking, and having each other’s back. At the end there is a long predictable rescue of one by the other. And yet it seemed entirely original. This is due to several elements that are all in perfect sync with one another.

Our Date with Miranda

Miranda July, Cannes, France, 2005
I first met Miranda July years ago at a faraway literary conference in Portland, Oregon. Along with Rick Moody and others we were on a panel that was supposed to converse authoritatively about narrative structure. When it came time for July to speak, she stood up and started singing. She was large-eyed and lithe. I don’t remember what song it was—something she had written herself, I believe. I was startled. Who was this woman?

Gazing at Love

Adèle Exarchopoulos as Adèle and Léa Seydoux as Emma in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color
Can a moviegoer set academic theory aside and still ask, What is the cinematic male gaze, and is it so very different from the female one? Is the camera inherently masculine, a powerful instrument of anxiety, and lust, forever casting women as objects? (The phallic pen has never once deterred a woman writer.) And when is a gaze not a gaze but something else—something prurient or false or constructed as if through a rifle sight, or, as one filmmaker friend of mine has said, “as something to be viewed in the safety of a dark theater”?

Double Agents in Love

Morgan Saylor as Dana Brody, Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, and Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody in Homeland
One of the intriguing aspects of the Showtime drama Homeland is that it is fearlessly interested in every kind of madness: the many Shakespearean manifestations—cold revenge, war-induced derangement, outsized professional ambition—as well as the more naturally occurring expressions, such as bipolar disease and simple grief. Homeland ruthlessly pits these psychic states against one another in different permutations and settings, like contestants in The Hunger Games, to see which will win, which will die, which will kill or be killed, which will bond or marry or breed or starve.

Which Wisconsin?

Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker, right, and his Democratic challenger in the recall election, Tom Barrett, before a television debate, Milwaukee, May 31, 2012. Walker won the election on June 5 with 53 percent of the vote to Barrett’s 46 percent.
The campaign to recall Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker (and several state legislators), which has now been decisively lost (except for one state senate seat), began two emotionally bitter winters ago. A piece of Walker-sponsored legislation known as Act 10 was put forward without much public warning: it was a proposal …

Which Wisconsin?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Corruption seems to surround Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who faces Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in Tuesday’s recall election. Walker has a criminal defense fund already in place and rumors of indictments are in the air, regarding both his time as Milwaukee County Executive and his current use of state moneys. But many people in self-contradictory Wisconsin, the home of both the Progressive Party and of Joe McCarthy, may not care very deeply about the charges against Walker. There can be a begrudging provincial respect for someone in the national eye, as well as for the out-of-state billionaires who have helped fill Walker’s campaign coffers with $31 million—an unprecedented amount in Wisconsin political history.

Sassy Angel

Terre (left), Maggie (middle), and Suzzy (right) on the back cover of their first album,

The Roche-Wainwright-McGarrigle intertwinings comprise a musical family the sprawling brilliance of which has not been experienced perhaps since—well, we wonʼt say the Lizst-Wagners—but at least the Carter-Cashes. The extended family oeuvre, though varied, often has a conversational, smart-kids-at-summer-camp quality that is both folky and jokey. The Rochesʼ own wistful, clever songs are written with a sweet street spontaneity and prosody, and their clear, pure voices are like a barbershop trio of sassy angels. But most often they sound like plucky girls riding home on a school bus, making things up as they go along.

Werner Herzog on Death Row

Mike Perry in prison, Livingston, Texas, 2010
A documentary film is often part stunt, part lab experiment, and the way a documentary filmmaker pursues his or her story will always involve a bit of amateur sleuthing, as well as improvisation. That such scriptless adventures have attracted a great director like Werner Herzog is curious but not alarming.

Werner Herzog on Death Row

Michael Perry during his interview in Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss

A documentary film is often part stunt, part lab experiment, and the way a documentary filmmaker pursues his or her story will always involve a bit of amateur sleuthing, as well as improv. That such scriptless adventures have attracted a great director like Werner Herzog is curious but not alarming. Good documentary films can be made cheaply and we seem to be living in an abundantly golden—or at least copper (penny-wise)—era of them. Herzogʼs latest film, Into the Abyss, much like his 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man, uses the camera as a geiger counter to locate some of the more toxic elements of the American cultural psyche as seen through the questing mind of a pseudo-squeamish European: here the setting is small town Texas’s well-traveled road to death row.

Circus Elephants

Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry during the playing of the National Anthem before a Republican presidential debate,Tampa, Florida, September 12, 2011

Already in a condition of satire, the opening of the Tea Party-hosted GOP debate on Monday night in Tampa presented the eight Republican presidential candidates as good-looking characters—“The Diplomat” “The Newcomer” “The Firebrand”—who would have to battle one another off the electoral island. Music, brassy and tense, and a baritone voice-over let you know that this reality show was part of the ongoing Apocalypse Lite that has infused our television programming and made the networks almost unwatchable. There was little even Jon Stewart on his show the next evening could do to make fun of what was often comedically predigested—except to say that the red, white and blue stage looked like the inside of Betsy Rossʼs, well, sewing room. Iʼm paraphrasing.

Very Deep in America

Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins and Madison Burge as Becky Sproles in Friday Night Lights
At a Manhattan book party recently I found myself locked in enthusiastic conversation in a corner with two other writers, all three of us, we discovered, solitary, isolated viewers of the NBC series Friday Night Lights. We spewed forth excitedly, like addicts—this was no longer a secret habit but a legitimately brilliant drama.

What If?

From the cover of Jerry McGill’s self-published memoir, Dear Marcus: Speaking to the Man Who Shot Me
That many young people are already writing their memoirs is no longer a funny thing to say but an actual cultural condition. Book buyers have nudged publishers in this direction: we love to read memoirs. Why shouldn’t we? At a dinner party is not the fiction, which consists predominantly and unfortunately of abbreviated film plots, protracted jokes, and urban myths, less mesmerizing than the real-life tales? It would be heartless not to be interested in memoirs.

In the Life of ‘The Wire’

Dominic West as Detective Jimmy McNulty and Corey Parker Robinson as Detective Leander Sydnor in The Wire
Set in post–September 11 Baltimore, the HBO series The Wire—whose sixty episodes were originally broadcast between June 2002 and March 2008 and are now available on DVD—has many things on its rich and roaming mind, but one of those things is Baltimore itself, home of Edgar Allan Poe, H.L. Mencken, Babe Ruth, and Billie Holiday. Baltimore is not just a stand-in for Western civilization or globalized urban rot or the American inner city now given the cold federal shoulder in the folly-filled war on terror, though it is certainly all these things. Baltimore is also just plain itself, with a very specific cast of characters, dead and alive.

The Brazilian Sphinx

Before beginning this review, I took a quick unscientific survey: Who had read the work of the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector? When I consulted with Latin American scholars (well, only four of them) they grew breathless in their praise. She was a goddess; she was Brazilian literature’s greatest writer. Further …

How He Wrote His Songs

In a way, Donald Barthelme’s work was all inner life, partially concealed, partially displayed. His stories are a registration of a certain kind of churning mind, cerebral fragments stitched together in the bricolage fashion of beatnik poetry. The muzzled cool, the giddy play, the tossed salad of high and low: everything from cartoon characters to opera gets referenced in a graffitti-like chain of sentences. Conventional narrative ideas of motivation and characterization generally are dispensed with. Language is seen as having its own random and self-generating vital life.

The Awkward Age

Peter Cameron is an urban novelist with an interest in the angle and viscosity of sunlight. He is an observer of greenery—“it was impossible to walk along that gravel path by the sea and not think palm frond shadow”—and the strength and direction of a current in a river or …

A Pondered Life

Sixteen years ago I was in Jackson, Mississippi, and the owner of the bed- and-breakfast at which I was staying gave me Eudora Welty’s address at 1119 Pinehurst Street, across from Bellhaven College. Miss Welty loves visitors, I was told, and I should feel free and welcome to go knock …

Love’s Wreckage

When the National Book Award nominations were announced this past autumn, they were greeted with a great amount of grumbling—grumbling that I began to feel was fueled in part by the national malaise presidential politics had caused to befall every conversation in the country. But grumbling nonetheless. The nominated books …

Unanswered Prayer

Whatever serious subject the novelist Nicholson Baker explores, we must never forget that he is also being at least a little funny. Fond of the brisk, improvisatory miniature and heir to the cerebral comedy of Donald Barthelme, he still can seem a little misunderstood by those who would read any …

Home Truths

Embedded (oh, that word) in John Updike’s openhearted foreword to his collection The Early Stories, 1953– 1975 is his book’s missing dedication. “Perhaps I could have made a go of the literary business without my first wife’s faith, forbearance, sensitivity, and good sense, but I cannot imagine how.” Indeed, the …

The Long Voyage Home

In singling out three “mavericks of black literature” for his new book Out There, Darryl Pinckney, who has written much on black literature in these pages, perceptively and with the animated brilliance of a passionate reader (he is also the gifted author of the novel High Cotton), has employed a …

Burning at Both Ends

The photograph of the mutable Edna St. Vincent Millay that peers out from the cover of Nancy Milford’s new biography recalls the face of a Vermeer. But not a Vermeer painted in the likely way—upside down, via camera obscura, so the features and creamy surfaces come together abstractly, with the …

Artship

Like Henry James, Alice Munro knows that love’s “floating bridge” between worlds—and over swamps—can bring a ruinous fate as easily and indifferently as can its absence. But Munro also knows that the arranging of love, improvised or institutional, and the seismic upheavals of its creation and dismantling—the boards rising and falling precariously beneath the feet—is both a kind of pornography of life as well as the very truth of it: it is often the most persuasive and defining force in the shape of individual existence and individual fate.

Patios & Poolsides

Before Robert Gottlieb became editor of The New Yorker for a brief five-year term (from 1987 to 1992), the fiction printed in the magazine was famous (among those associated with smaller literary magazines) for its squeamish gentility. No body fluids, sounds, or smells were permitted in its pages. Other banished …

The Odd Women

Weekly, the coffee shop near my house has what the owner calls “Trivia Tuesday”: anyone who can answer the trivia question posted on the cake case wins a free cup of coffee. One Tuesday not so long ago I ventured in at around four in the afternoon. The question, written …

Made in the USA

Our hungry manufacture and easy bestowal of fame (with its twin illusions of accessibility and inaccessibility) is a kind of communion: it brings the gods close and makes them edible. In the words of my four-year-old son, “Stars are farther than outer space. They are farther than South America. They …