I didn't think I was going to write my response on "People like that..." by Lorrie Moore. We were given a wide selection of short stories to read for this class. I could have picked the magical realism of "Eyes of Zapata," or the regretful coming of age story told in "Knowing you in Snow." I really enjoyed both of those stories.
I chose "People Like That..." because it was the one that reached me the most directly. The story is about misery. To read it is to dive head-first into a very quiet, very small place of absolute suffering. Parents contemplating the death of their child. The story dwells on incomprehensible details of a cancer, treatment and human pain. It hones in, unflinchingly at the interior thoughts of a mother as she does what she can to help her baby live.
For a story that exists primarily in the mind and conversation of the characters it has a singular power to seize images and describe them in fever dream prose. A mouse heart buried in snow. His eyes two dark unseeing grapes. It is the crying of an old person: silent, beyond opinion, shattered. The descriptions shock and they dismay but they also are perfectly calibrated. We do not wallow with the narrator. We listen, we empathize, we escape.
Because that's the final verdict of the story. Their child leaves Peed Onk. They are able to carry on with their lives. They haven't won, they haven't been transformed utterly by the experience. They survived it. That's what the story seems to suggest. There are some kinds of suffering that can only be documented, catalogued, and shared.
This point comes up later in the story when Frank shares, 'the worst thing that has ever happened to him.' The story he shares, of a botched procedure that nearly killed his son at the hospital also happened to the narrator. The sharing doesn't help the narrator of her husband. It doesn't hurt them either. It is more important because it exists at all. They have entered a community bound together by incomprehensibilities. They only thing that unites them is the cold fact that it has happened to other people as well.
Thought it self is the subject then of this story. That is the central motif. The Husband asks the Mother, "are you taking notes?" About the procedures. About the people they talk to. About the horror of it all. So the Mother lays out all of the observations and opinions she has. But what does it ultimately matter?
Yes I took notes. Where's my money? A cold statement but absolutely not a cynical one. All of her observations have brought her memories. All of her observations about the worst things that happened to her, they are just that, observations. They are awful, perhaps readers have experienced them too, but at the end, Moore shows us leaving that world behind. That is the point. To survive and to escape.