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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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

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


  • [[there.]] by Lance Olsen December 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen is the author of two recent works, [[there.]] and Theories of Forgetting (FC2). The second presents three narratives in a clearly fictional mode while the first offers day-to-day thoughts on living in another country. We rightly suspect that any artist’s memoir or diary ought to be viewed as written with a prospective public in mind, no matter ho […]
  • Noir and Nihilism in True Detective December 15, 2014
    "It’s just one story. The oldest. . . . Light versus dark." Spanning 8 episodes between January and March of 2014, HBO’s runaway hit True Detective challenged the status quo of contemporary crime drama. The show has been widely celebrated for its philosophy, complexity, and visual aesthetic. Co-starring actors Matthew McConaughey as Rustin "Ru […]
  • The Colonel’s World December 15, 2014
    Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (born 1940) is considered by many the living Iranian novelist, a perennial Nobel Prize candidate. Dowlatabadi wrote The Colonel some thirty years ago, because in his own words he had been “afflicted.” The subject forced him to sit at the desk and write nonstop for two years. “Writing The Colonel I felt a strong sense of indignation and pa […]
  • Mr Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn by Alessandro Baricco December 15, 2014
    Alessandro Baricco’s well-crafted, elegant prose seems as though it should create the impression of distance, or of abstraction; instead, the reader of Mr. Gwyn and Three Times at Dawn becomes wholly implicated and immersed, drawn into a dreamy and idiosyncratic world that blurs the division between reader, character and writer. As readers, we expect that th […]
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash December 15, 2014
    "The paan shop leads to the opening of a tunnel, full of the creatures of the city, and the tears and spit of a fakir." In a single opening line, Uday Prakash sets the scene for the politically incisive, yet intimately human stories of The Walls of Delhi (translated brilliantly from the Hindi by Jason Grunebaum). Lest the fakir suggest otherwise, t […]
  • The Man Between: Michael Henry Heim and a Life in Translation December 15, 2014
    In a speech reprinted in the book, Heim makes a self-deprecating joke about whether the life of a translator is worth reading: “What does a translator do? He sits and translates!” The Man Between serves as a book-length retort by laying bare all the things Heim did: these include persuading the academy that translation is a scholarly (in addition to a creati […]
  • The Prabda Yoon Interview December 15, 2014
    Yes, I think people are not comfortable anymore to write in this straightforward, traditional way, especially the younger, more progressive writers. So it’s interesting—you have social commentary, and you also get a little bit of structural experiment. You have themes that are very, very Thai. I’m actually very interested to see what new writers will come up […]
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck December 15, 2014
    For Jenny Erpenbeck, no life is lived in an indisputable straight line. Which is why, in her new novel (new in English, though published in 2012 as Aller Tage Abend) she approaches the narrative as a series of potential emotional earthquakes, some which take place, some which might have taken place, all of which reveal something of how political turbulence p […]
  • In the Heart of the Heart of the Country by William H. Gass December 15, 2014
    Once, at a writers symposium, William Howard Gass remarked that to substitute the page for the world is a form of revenge for the recognition that "you are, in terms of the so-called world, an impotent nobody." There is inarguably no contemporary writer of American stock in whose work one might locate a more ambitious war of attrition between innov […]
  • Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli December 15, 2014
    Luiselli’s first novel, Faces in the Crowd, translated into fluid English by Christina MacSweeney, is the perfect illustration of this attitude toward fiction writing. Narrated in short sections spanning multiple storylines and the better part of one hundred years, it uses "[d]eep excavations" to expose the empty spaces in two lives, those of a you […]

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 conversationalreading.com, 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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