Subject To Search by Lorrie Moore, 2014
The magic trick:
Exploring the notion that just because you assume someone would understand you it doesn’t mean they will
In a book of very sad stories, this one takes the biscuit as the saddest. It seems to grow from such hope. A man and a woman connected long before the action opens. They were married at the time, and likely thought, oh if only I was with that person, things would be better. And now, as the story begins, they are together; they are both single; and yet, things aren’t so much better at all.
The key theme behind the sadness is the inability to communicate, to connect with another person. Moore outlines the theme in a similar manner to yesterday’s SSMT feature, “Debarking.” That is to say, she does so simply and with excellent show-don’t-tell detail. Our protagonist literally can’t speak the same languages as Tom. Tom, meanwhile, can’t give her the attention and love she craves because he’s too emotionally wrecked by an incident in the war years earlier in which men died because he failed to properly communicate instructions.
Speaking of the war, Moore is far more successful here – again, I write with the opinion of an idiot amateur – than in “Debarking” at incorporating 21st-century current events and political malaise into fractured personal relationships. Probably because Tom’s line of work directly connects to foreign relations, the use of war in the story feels far less forced than it did in “Debarking” or even “Foes.”
Regardless, it’s another masterpiece of sadness and stagnation. It’s a perfectly communicated picture of communication breakdown. And that’s quite a trick on Moore’s part.
“Merci.” He smiled. She knew that he liked it when she said anything in French. His specialty was languages, including Urdu and Arabic, although only an hour and a half of Urdu, he declared, and then his mind turned into a blank blue screen. “And actually only four hours of Arabic,” he said. “And maybe even only five of English: five hours is a long time to keep talking.”