Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Referential" by Lorrie Moore

Most of the reactions I've read to Moore's "Referential" in this week's issue of the New Yorker have been either oblivious to the Nabokov original, or pent on a compare/contrast exercise. I'm more concerned about why Moore felt the need to write this piece. I don't think it's absurd to state that "Signs and Symbols" is one of the few perfect short stories in existence. Moore's reason for writing the piece, which is somewhere between  a riff and an unsettling rip-off, is a complete bafflement. In the Q&A she calls it an "homage," but an homage is something that serves as a mental cue to another work of art. An homage should take the original and do something interesting and different with it: it should become a frame from which we might view the original with a unique perspective. "Referential" is less homage and more bad Hollywood re-make, because let's be honest, the stories are almost identical. When you're re-phrasing paragraphs in a way that wouldn't pass you aren't doing an homage, you're doing a disservice.

I'm fairly confident the only reason this piece sailed into the fiction slot is because Lorrie Moore is a (somewhat) young, hip writer and her name is a big draw. But I'm disturbed that something like this can be considered appropriate, let alone printable as its own, stand-alone story. I preferred this tack when it was consigned to Shouts & Murmurs.