Michael Gorra

  • Farmer's Daughter

    “Mordancy: there was something that could not really be taught. But it could be borrowed. It could be rubbed up against. It could scrape you like bark.” The words belong to Tassie Keltjin, the narrator of Lorrie Moore’s third novel, A Gate at the Stairs, and in their incisiveness they maybe tell us a bit too much about both the character and her creator. Tassie is twenty, a student in the midwestern college town of “Troy”; Moore herself teaches at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. And mordancy is for Tassie the kind of grown-up sass she associates with a restaurateur in her forties named

  • The City That Never Sweeps

    The picture “dissolves to life—and I enter a passageway of a street,” cobbled with lava, and the lunchtime air full of a “savage drum-roll of descending grilles” over one storefront after another. So in the opening pages of her 1970 novel, The Bay of Noon, Shirley Hazzard sends her young narrator on a walk through the historic center of Naples. Jenny Unsworth has come to Italy to work as a translator for nato, but she has no particular interest in the place; she wants merely to be out of England. The war stands a decade in the past, yet the region is still battered, and indeed, the book’s first

  • Great Dictators

    History records no meeting between Miss Lilian Hallowes and Miss Theodora Bosanquet. History does not, in fact, record much at all about Miss Hallowes, who spent twenty years as Joseph Conrad’s secretary. About Miss Bosanquet—I’ll give them the honorifics of their day—we know more, not least because she left a record of her own employer, an elegant, indispensable pamphlet called Henry James at Work (1924). A graduate of University College, London, she was with James from 1907 until his death in 1916, sitting at her Remington as his dictating voice rolled from sentence to sentence. Probably she