“You’re Ugly, Too”
From: The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction
Fifty North American Stories Since 1970
First published in The New Yorker in 1989
Zoё Hendricks might be joking when she tells her younger sister Evan, “I’m going out of my mind,” but then again, she might just be telling the truth. A young, single professor of American history at a small college in Illinois, there’s something about Zoё that doesn’t quite fit in with the contented Midwestern population. Her sarcasm clashes with everyone she meets. Her students don’t know what to make of her, the men she dates make quick exits, and the only people she feels connected to are the mailman and Jerry the cabbie.
A trip east to visit Evan and her boyfriend Charlie in New York may be the answer. “I was hoping you would,” says Evan. She’ll be just in time for their Halloween party. And then Evan tells Zoё, “I know a man I think you should meet.”
Zoё’s Halloween costume is a giant bonehead. The man she’s to meet is Earl, newly divorced, and he’s dressed as a naked woman. They try to connect as they talk out on the balcony, but their conversation goes in strange directions. Earl tries to talk about love. Zoё tells jokes to get through the awkwardness. As they share two versions of a doctor’s joke, the different punch lines may be the dagger.
This is a terrific short story, full of Zoё’s shocking sarcasm and over the top conversations. They’re the kind of lines that make you stop and try to get a handle on what’s gotten into this complicated character. It could be her loneliness or an unnamed illness, or a variety of the other jaded viewpoints that run through her mind.
But while the story is joltingly funny, serious themes of isolation, relationships, mental instability and illness are just below the surface and the final lines show just how unglued Zoё has become.
If you like complicated characters and the alarming twists in short fiction, you will enjoy Moore’s writing style. I’m looking forward to reading more of her fiction.
Lorrie Moore is an American short story writer and novelist. She is the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.
Lorrie Moore is the author of three novels and four collections of stories as well as the editor of several anthologies. Moore has received honors for her work, among them the Irish Times International Prize for Literature, a Lannan Foundation fellowship, as well as the PEN/Malamud Award and the Rea Award for her achievement in the short story. Her most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs, was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize and for the PEN/Faulkner. Her most recent collection, BARK, was shortlisted for The Story Prize, The Frank O’Connor Prize, and The Gregor Von Rezzori Prize. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001 and to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2005.
Visit Amazon for a list of all Lorrie Moore’s books.
Interesting articles about Moore:
From The New Yorker: “The Year in Reading: Lorrie Moore”
From The Believer: “Lorrie Moore Writer and Professor”
From New York: “Influences: Lorrie Moore”
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