Review, nay Rewrite: I Am Homeless if This is Not My Home

Shame on you, Lorrie Moore. You chickened out . Or did you get editized? We’ll never know. But here’s the reality: it coulda been better. It shoulda been better. I’ll make a stab at making it better.

What the fuck are you talking about, darling? The latest book from Lorrie Moore is entitled “I am Homeless if This is Not My Home”. The title is a riff on a sign affixed to a homeless person, reading “I am not homeless. This IS my home.” She moved the “not” and added an “if”. First question sister Sharyn asked: What has the title to do with the story? me..guess I could make something up, but that’s hardly a worthwhile effort. Instead, let us plunge in.

Now: if you want to read the book and haven’t yet, stop reading this post. If you’ve already read the book and hated it, as some will, you can read on and we can debate the changes. If you read the book and loved it the way it is, ditto – that last advice. If you never intend to read the book, why are you reading this post?

OK, ok, get on with it you say. What’s it all about, Alfie? A guy, a girl. Hmm..novel start. They were together; they broke up. The guy’s brother is dying. The guy – Finn is his name – visits his brother and has awkward conversations with him. The brother seems unaware that he is dying. He knows he has cancer and thinks he needs to leave where he is to get chemo. But his is a lost cause, and he’s in hospice.

Oh wait, it really starts with a letter from someone called Elizabeth to her sister. So far, we have no idea why we have an American Civil War era letter kicking off this tome, when it is clearly about a guy with a dying brother and a lost, suicidal love. Is that fair? Hell, no. Then why did you keep reading? Because…because she – Lorrie Moore – writes very witty prose.

Witty prose? Witty like how? Hmm…like The English Patient, but less formal and much more up my alley as an older female. Clear the author knows a lot about a lot. References to opera. According to a British interview, I think, her family was into opera when she was a kid. OK, check that box.

Back to the story. When in NY visiting the brother, Finn gets a message from the wife of the headmaster of the school where he teaches saying he needs to get in touch. Now Finn has been suspended for two weeks for teaching outside his subject. He gives his kids math lessons for ten minutes in his history class. But the real reason, he suspects, is because the wife of the headmaster – the same wife now messaging him – was hitting on him and he spurned her. How does the wife of the headmaster know about Lily, the girlfriend? Hmm..felt like an invented connection, maybe suggested by the editor after that turns out to be a loose end, or maybe wasn’t there at all at first, and was introduced by another character who then disappeared? Maybe..anyway, ANSWER: they are in a book club together.

So he finds out from spurned wife of school headmaster that Lily has died, committed suicide in the loony bin by drowning herself in the shower with lax supervision due to prurience about a naked woman in a shower. Even though she’d already tried to kill herself before exactly the same way. So Finn gets angry. Wants to know where the grave is. Spurned wife says it was a green burial, no marker. OK, so la di da, more discussion – move on. OK. Finn goes to graveyard to find greenly-buried Lily. Who is a shrouded, uh – well, a zombie. OK. Not a ghost, but a dead person who walks and talks and sorta looks right but isn’t. Now there’s lots of fodder for interesting description of what an unembalmed body would look like over time. Over time? Well, yes. Lily says she wants to ‘contribute something’ by being one of the dead bodies at the cadaver farm in Knoxville, Tennessee. Yes, it is a thing. You can check it out.

So, road trip! Finn and Lily traveling by Subaru from NYC to Knoxville. Long enough trip for lots of dialogue and arguments about failed relationships, especially theirs. Why was she so suicidal all the time? Why was he always so clueless about how it feels to be suicidal all the time? Why can’t they just forget the past and move on? Talk about clueless…

That’s when we must quote Dylan. Wait – segue. Lily points out that two mass murderers were called Dylan. She doesn’t add this next factoid, it’s me adding it. Klebold and Root. I had to look up Klebold because I forgot his name. I remembered Root.

Gee this is getting long. OK. Quote Dylan. “Things fall apart”. He says it at the end of the CD soundtrack from “Masked and Anonymous”. A terrible movie but a marvelous collection of Dylan covers. Back to the story. The ending. Lorrie, honey, you missed. Or got editorized. Who knows.

There’s an incident fairly early on when Finn’s car goes into a slide on an icy road and hits a dirt bank. A sheriff is called who calls a tow truck and the car starts and he’s back on the road. Really. No kidding…hole here. Opportunity here..but nope. That’s what happened.

Along the way, they stop at ‘motel’ for the night and it’s the place where Elizabeth – remember Elizabeth writing the letter? Did I call her that? One second – scroll up – check. Yes I did. Elizabeth writes letters to her sister and has ambrotypes on a window of civil war amputees looking sad. That’s the clue that helps us realize that Finn and the dead Lily are at the same place talking to a woman who is like Elizabeth, but obviously isn’t. He finds the letters bound in a book on the shelf in the room they rent at this sorta motel.

Whew. Now: Elizabeth the Civil War era writer describes how she killed one of her boarders – a guy she calls Jack, who has tights in his luggage, wears capes and spouts Shakespeare to her. Get it? Jack – nickname for John..Shakespeare? Christ almighty, it’s J. Wilkes Booth! There’s dialogue about conspiracy theories in the story. How the things we call conspiracy theories today aren’t, they’re really just bullshit. A real conspiracy theory is that J. Wilkes Booth didn’t die in that fire in the shed, that he went about his merry way and ended up in India or something. Well, in this story, it is surmised that Elizabeth sorta knows it’s him, with references to young Yankee soldiers stopping by her rest stop in Kentucky and crying when they hear on Easter Sunday that Lincoln has been shot. There is even dispute about the ‘sic semper tyrannis’ part, which was allegedly added later for emphasis. This Jack character even has a wooden leg, even tho’ Dr. Mudd – you know, the guy eventually locked up at Fort Jeff on the Dry Tortugas? That Dr. Mudd set his leg, didn’t amputate it. So who knows about that part?

God this is really getting long. So OK. What we have here is a ghost story that should have been Finn is killed when his car slides off the icy road, which occurs before he picks up zombie Lily. Their quest to go to Knoxville should have been revealed at the end to have taken place in the bardo. She mentions the bardo. George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo” beat her to that reference, something she mentioned in that British interview, and reviews have also mentioned it. But Lorrie didn’t use it properly! Finn and Lily are both dead, trying to reconcile their relationship in the afterlife, but cannot. Simple. Not unlike Lincoln going to son Willie’s tomb and trying to reconcile himself to the loss of his marvelous child.

Maybe Lorrie changed it because George beat her to the punch? Didn’t want readers to say, oh, you got this from George, even though she was working on it when George’s work came out? That’s a pity. It shoulda been better. Because it really doesn’t work this way. It ends with Finn at his brother’s funeral. Doesn’t fit. Doesn’t work. Should have ended with Finn’s funeral, and the announcement that he wanted to be donated to the cadaver farm, but there was a mixup and he ended up in the same green graveyard as Lily. Now that is a perfect ending. Think about it, relative to the title: “..if this is not my home. Not my final resting place, that green I – dead body Finn, dead body Lily..are homeless in the bardo. Problem to fix throughout book. So obvious. Lorrie..why? Explain yourself, woman.

Final thought: two terrific writers are channeling something very similar. Lincoln..the Bardo..loss..reconciliation. They both tapped into the cosmic consciousness after having been tasked with talking about it to enlighten readers about something that must be known. Hey, it’s about the multiverse again (see last post below). I have not written on that particular topic, but I have delved into something similar in writing something for Aunt Jopie about her brother Clemmie. I’ve described it, but haven’t put it out to anyone other than her. After she goes, I’ll put it out as a two part story. Apparently, this stuff needs to be said for skeptics who don’t get that it’s all just quantum mechanics. We have so much to learn as humans. Hope we figure it all out before we become obsolete via climate change and AI.

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