It’s been fourteen long years since Lorrie Moore last published a novel. Like all her work, “I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home” is a deeply thoughtful and imaginative piece of fiction full of glorious language that makes the wait all the sweeter. It begins with Elizabeth, a self-described spinster who has written a letter to her sister after the Civil War. She’s the owner of a boarding house and describes with chill remove both the horrific remnants of the war and the pleasures of modern life. Whether electricity and hot air balloons or the mutilated bodies of soldiers, all receive the same droll delivery. She is not affected by much. “I am braced at every turn for disenchantment,” she says. Elizabeth is particularly plagued by a “handsome lodger” with a “cork foot from the secesh” who pursues her company and harasses her Black companion. But she only seems to become emotional when longing for her sister.
Moore then cuts abruptly to another very specific time in American history during the Clinton/Trump election, and although the book really doesn’t have anything to do with the election, the occasional reference is so specific it places the reader firmly in that moment in time. (Example: “Pizzagate.”) We’re introduced to Finn, who, while visiting his dying brother in hospice, is also deeply concerned about his suicidal ex-girlfriend Lily. The brothers’ devotion and care for each other is tender and sad, particularly as Max, who is dying, seems to pity Finn even more than Finn pities Max. Finn grapples with summarizing his love and affection for his brother in his dying moments with the goals of extending his life through the pleasure of baseball. (Chicagoans will recall the Cubs will win the series in this book.) Despite his good intentions, he ends up shocking Max with his conspiracy theories and his ex-girlfriend’s suicidal ideation. And then he leaves unexpectedly.
The book takes yet another hard turn as Finn embarks on a cross-country road trip with a ghost and a mission. Here, “I Am Homeless If This is Not My Home” becomes an even heavier dialogue-driven meditation on grief and love. Moore continues to juxtapose extremes, lovingly describing even the grossness of a decomposing corpse. Finn’s ghost jokes that the worms haven’t gotten to them even as they brush one off their sleeve. Moore describes larvae clinging to their cheek “as if to a plum” in a way that verges on the romantic. “So, what is death like anyway?” Finn asks. There aren’t easy answers. There is mystery and there is inconclusiveness. “Kind of what you think. And kind of not what you think,” says his ghost. “Not everything dies all at once and together. And some things flicker back on. You kind of get trapped in this partial power outage. The guys with helmets fix some things but not others.”
Moore links Elizabeth and Finn in the most tenuous of ties while leaving plenty of space for the reader to draw their own conclusions. She certainly gently guides us toward that dark veil, the connection of siblings and the depth of grief after a loved one dies, but this book leaves ample breathing room for interpretation. Lest this sound very dreary, rest assured Moore’s hand is light, the badinage of the characters is generally delightful and the imagery is Southern Gothic. It’s a novel worth waiting for. (Kelly Roark)
“I Am Homeless If This is Not My Home”
By Lorrie Moore
Knopf, 208 pages