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"I Am Homeless if This Is Not My Home| Reviewed by William Winkler

Lorrie Moore is a professor of English at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University. She writes essays, short stories, and has published four novels. Her most recent novel, “I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home,” deals with love, death, and grief, and does so in unconventional terms.

The novel unfolds in two, only occasionally intersecting, narratives. The first, set in a post-Civil War boarding house somewhere in the American South, comprises a series of letters from innkeeper Elizabeth to her sister. The second, and longer, story arc is the account of Finn, a recently unemployed history teacher from the Midwest who is at a New York hospice with his dying brother Max.

While in New York, Finn receives a message that his former lover, Lily, has taken her life as she was being treated for depression in an Illinois hospital. Finn drives to Illinois to find that Lily had specified a “green” burial, and that her unembalmed body had already been laid to rest.

In the dying light of a cold October day Finn searches the burial site for Lily’s unmarked grave. He finds the grave with Lily, enshrouded and picking mud from her ears and mouth, atop it.

Lily asks Finn to deliver her to a “body farm” in Virginia or Kentucky. Much of the rest of the novel is a description of their road trip and their interaction on the journey. At an overnight stop the pair check into a guest house, the same inn in which Elizabeth wrote her letters generations earlier. After they arrive at their destination and Lily fades out of sight into the night mists, Finn returns to New York for his brother’s funeral.

Lorrie Moore has written a novel that eludes easy characterization. It is a love story, but one that ends in no clear-cut resolution. It is a story of grief, but grief with seemingly little pain.

And it questions the nature of death itself; is it an event or merely a transition

Moore’s use of language has garnered praise throughout her career. It occasionally asks a lot of the reader. Can the reader define gouache? Fata Morgana? It brings to mind the famous feud between Hemingway and Faulkner. Faulkner is reported to say that Hemingway’s style did not require the reader to consult a dictionary, to which Hemingway responded, “Does [Faulkner] really think big emotions come from big words?”

Moore uses big words to convey big emotions. This is a novel some readers may find challenging, but as Moore herself said in a recent interview, “I’m afraid I’ve written something that needs to be read twice.”

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