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The ants are my friends/they’re blowing in the wind

on February 15, 2009

I just read a requiem Lorrie Moore wrote for Updike in the NYT, and I’ve never known her to be so somber. Moore is one of my favorite short story writers, the author of Anagrams and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, which maybe you were assigned in a creative-writing workshop and thought, “Crap, we have to learn how to pun now?” She performs a similar kind of verbal gymnastics as Nabokov does, wowing with clever semantic jokes and twisted meanings, only her style reminds me of slapstick where he’s all graceful and fluttery.

In Anagrams a guy gives his girlfriend a scented drawer sachet that reads, “I Pine for You, and Sometimes I Balsam.” A woman scribbles down a list of all her old lovers, loses the list, and cracks jokes about it being “mislaid.” That sort of thing.

Her essay on Updike is totally pun-free, but, as someone who never got into the Rabbit novels but loved Updike’s book reviews, it was neat to read her theory about what made his nonfiction so good:

Even when his essays included a harsh criticism, he politely coiled it, tucked it inside, part snake, part rose, and the reader would feel the bite sprung silkily only at the end — in a balletic allegiance to both generosity and candor. Self-knowledge and self-forgiveness bestowed their own empiricism: he knew too what it was to create weak art.

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