Lorrie Moore on fiction, memoir, and reality

From Angela Pneuman’s October 2005 interview with Lorrie Moore:

BLVR: Do you think of writing as a kind of willing, if indirect, personal exposure? Do you ever feel overexposed and wish you could take something back? You’ve said you will never write memoir–why is that?

LM: Well, I don’t have an interesting enough life for a memoir — unless I get to fudge and exaggerate and lie. But then that’s fiction. As for personal exposure in fiction, well, sure. One has to be brave. There is always a little personal exposure, to use your phrase, and more than that there is the illusion of personal exposure, which may have the same annoying repercussions. There is nothing one can do. A writer can’t control the reception of one’s work or the perception of its author — as much as one would like to. You just have to put on your helmet and boots and get out your pen. At some point, to some extent, what is both right and wrong with your work is what’s right and wrong with you. What is in it is what’s in you — and that’s if it’s going well.

BLVR: Memoir seems to be a form that has taken off, recently, and often the writers are young. I’m curious about what you think that means. I’ve been wondering about its popularity as some kind of cultural counterpart to “reality television,” some priority we’re giving to the apparently true.

LM: What little reality television I’ve seen seems to be about economic desperation. Like the marathon dancing of the Great Depression, which should give us pause. People willing to eat flies and worms for a sum that is less than the weekly paycheck of the show’s producer. I haven’t seen “reality television” that is other than this kind of painful, sadistic exploitation of fit young people looking for agents. Memoir, it ain’t. But perhaps it will go into one someday. The phenomenon of memoirs has several aspects to it, I suppose. There is the therapeutic one for author and reader seeking to reveal, confess, and discuss a real-life problem. There is the desire of readers for Something that Really Happened; my ten-year-old feels this way. Things don’t hold his attention unless they are Actually True. This speaks, too, I think, to the failure of a voice to cast a spell. If prose can cast a spell we will listen to it no matter what it’s saying (and maybe decide afterward whether we like what it’s saying–how else could, say, Lolita work?) If a narrative uses language in a magical and enlivening way, we will listen to the story. But if the language doesn’t cast a spell, we will listen to it only if it is telling us something that actually happened. So in this way, there is a wider range of prose abilities in memoirs, it seems to me.


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