The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.

Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

Lorrie Moore's Sad Decline

Dan Green: not a fan of Lorrie Moore’s career trajectory:

Moore’s 2009 novel, A Gate at the Stairs, shows the most precipitous decline into banality and unearned emotion yet. It may be the worst novel by a “name” author I’ve ever read, which is made all the more dismaying by the fact it comes from a writer I once admired. Once again this is a story that leans heavily on the initial emotional appeal of children, but in this case although an orphaned child is introduced and her plight made a center of interest for a while, utlimately this narrative thread has very little emotional weight and is finally dropped, not to be taken up again. Other potentially emotion-laden episodes are introduced as well, but they all remain surprisingly inert, both in narrative and emotional effect. Thus, while the situations evoked in the novel are potentially mawkish, they are executed with so little imagination and formal integrity they essentially just arise and recede without making much of an impression at all. The death of the protagonist’s brother, for example, seems so arbitrary, so clearly the product of narrative convenience that her reaction to it is almost grotesquely overwrought. We’ve been given so little reason to care about the brother, or so little insight into the relationship between sister and brother, this episode as the novel’s climactic event falls disastrously flat even in a narrative that never gets off the ground anyway.

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  1. Decline of reading in America Someone go call Kevin Smokler and ask him what he makes of this. Faced with declining sales, two of the biggest publishers of mass-market titles,...
  2. A Sad Story of a First-Time Author This story, from the Columbia Journalism Review’s first annual books issue, is making the roundsof the lit blogs. It’s a pretty interesting read about how...
  3. Should I Read A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore? I feel like I’ve gotten a little out of touch with contemporary American fiction (too much older American fiction plus contemporary translation), so I’m trying...
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11 comments to Lorrie Moore's Sad Decline

  • Because of reviews like yours, I decided not to read A Gate at the Stairs. Having followed Moore almost since the beginning of her career, I saw a decline in her writing developing many years ago, and this is the outcome I expected for the novel. She still has an army of devotees, but one more disappointment will be enough to make them break ranks en masse.

    I’ve written elsewhere that the early landing of a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin has led to a dearth of experience in a life that was uneventful to begin with. Some argue that struggling artists need their struggle assuaged. I don’t agree, and Lorrie Moore is a case in point.

  • Seth Clyde-Hamilton Gold

    Agree 100%.

  • anonymous

    You guys can’t read.

  • Not only can we read, but we also have the guts to use our actual names, unlike you with your empty criticism. If you’re open to discussion, I’ll be glad to elaborate on my position and defend it.

  • Although “anonymous” is too meek to have an actual discussion, I’ve put together a very short critique of Lorrie Moore’s work. Rather than suffer through “A Gate at the Stairs,” I reread “Real Estate,” one of the stories in “Birds of America.” This particular story, which must have been written around 1998, had never been published previously. I doubt it would have passed muster for “The New Yorker.”

    Ruth, the protagonist, is a stock Moore character: her husband, Terence, is a serial cheater, and though she has already had one lung removed for cancer and undergone chemotherapy, she still smokes. Of course, they never discuss anything substantative, and Ruth lingers on in unhappy silence. In an attempt at pedantic word usage, Moore refers to a keloidal scar as a “ketoidal track.” The plot includes a couple of absurdities that I assume are supposed to be entertaining. An unknown fifteen-year-old boy named Tod illegally occupies Ruth’s attic unbeknownst to her – even though she and Terence have heard him clomping around for days. There is a burglar named Noel who breaks into people’s homes while they’re in bed, makes them sing him songs, and transcribes the words before robbing them. In the denouement, Ruth, who has been practicing shooting in order to kill unwanted crows in the yard, shoots and kills Noel. Finally Ruth runs from the house barefoot, and, as in countless Lorrie Moore stories, there is a rush of evocative language that sympathetically represents what might simply be called clinical depression.

    When I say that Moore’s work has declined in quality, it’s because she was writing the same sorts of things twenty years ago and has become formulaic. Without reading it, I presume the failure of “A Gate at the Stairs” would be starker, with these unsatisfactory elements jumbled into a full-length novel that wasn’t edited properly. I agree with Dan Green that her language can still be beautiful, but have hoped that by now she would be able to write something better: a book that comes to grips with more than a few artificially constructed vicissitudes of life, that doesn’t rely on overwrought emotional set pieces, and that appeals to mature, educated adults.

  • Correction: A version of “Real Estate” appeared in “The New Yorker” just as “Birds of America” was being published.

  • Jen C

    I am currently reading A Gate at the Stairs and somewhat agree with this critique. It is not as good as some of her earlier short stories. In general, I find her writing to be lacking something in terms of plot and character development, but I really like the way she describes things and the random bursts of humor. I definitely laugh out loud at times when reading Moore’s work, and that is enough incentive for me I suppose.

  • Rose S

    Yes, well, I didn’t much like A Gate At the Stairs, but I read it quickly unable to put it down anyway. I think this was because a) I really loved Anagrams, Birds of America, and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, and b) because I wanted something to HAPPEN! I felt that I related to Tassie because I was around her age at that time, but who lives in that isolated world? Who goes around not knowing or interacting with anyone? I couldn’t believe how bleak it was and I can get down with bleak, believe me. Also, the plot was a wandering stream that had no climax besides the series of disappointments and loss (or the strange scene in the coffin). Some joy would have helped. The scenes with Murph were the best and most real in the book.

  • [...] have a knot in my stomach.  I’ve just been to, after Googling one of my favorite authors, Lorrie Moore. I read a conversation entitled, [...]

  • jan g

    Just…and I mean just finished the novel and boy was it a dissapointment. I live in Milwaukee and just had to go to Madison for two days and while there I kept thinking about what a really great town Madison is. The novel was so poorly edited that I wanted to send her an email offering to edit her next effort. The purple prose and sardonic quips by the narrator…and all the excamation points!!!!How did a writing teacher let those get so out of control.
    Her parents were so weird, her relationship with her brother was not developed enough and the couple she worked for were uber creeps. I was relieved the baby was out of the mess…and I was relieved I got out as well.

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