You pick up Lorrie Moore’s collection of short stories called Self-Help because you’ve always admired her writing. Plus, your own writing is often compared to hers. Not because you are a master of the form, like Moore, but more because your short stories are peppered with a sort of sad and self-deprecating humor.
What you love about reading short story collections over short story anthologies is that you can pick up the threads that move throughout the stories. Moore has a thing for opera singers and women who work in retail, women with cheating men and weird moms. You enjoy the collection because you enjoy Moore’s writing, however you are a little put off by the choice of the second person in so many of the stories.
You wonder what it is about the second person that you don’t like. Perhaps it’s the presumptuousness of what “you” would do. It immediately puts you on the defensive and the whole time you are reading a story you can’t help but think, “I would never do that.”
There’s the feeling that the character is keeping you at arm’s length, as if she doesn’t want you to get too close. You read the stories and wonder what the character is hiding and feel like you can’t quite trust her. You wonder if the character has shame and this is why she foists her story onto you. I would be too personal, perhaps.
You have to admit that even though you were put off by the second-person point of view stories, you still really enjoyed the collection. You learn that it is Moore’s first collection and you are willing to forgive her most anything because she gave you “You’re Ugly, Too” and “Terrible Mother.”
What you think you might like the best about the book is that in the copy you mooched a previous owner has scrawled on the back cover in bright-pink, bubbly cursive this passage from the story “What Is Seized,”
“And I say to myself: I will leave every cold man, every man for whom music is some private physics and love some unsteppable dance. I will try to make them regret. To make them sad. I am driving back toward my tiny kitchen table and I will write this: forgiveness lives alone and far off down the road, but bitterness and are are close, gossipy neighbors, sharing the same clothesline, hanging out their things, getting their laundry confused.”
You like the idea of men who think love is some unsteppable dance. You can’t get it out of your head. You realize that’s what makes Moore so great even when she chooses the annoying second person.