May 28, 2012: “Referential” by Lorrie Moore
If it weren’t for the Q&A with Lorrie Moore I would not have known that this story by Lorrie Moore is derivative (Moore uses the word “homage”) of “Signs and Symbols” by Vladimir Nabokov, a story published in the magazine in 1948. Although that story is a starting point, Moore seems to be going somewhere else with it, although I can’t say that for sure having not read the original. (This story is behind the paywall.)
Moore’s story is about a widow whose teenage son is institutionalized because he is a danger to himself, and has been for a long time. It isn’t always clear why kids are like that, and it’s not clear in this case, although his father died when he was young. For the past several years, the mother has been in a relationship with Peter, who is something of a step-father to the boy, but the boy’s deepening trouble appears to have been too much for Peter to handle and he’s been pulling away. In this story, the separation is nearly complete. And yet the mother wants to bring the boy home—an act, it seems to me, that could have only one result. And maybe that’s what she really wants.
The story is short and readable, but not, for me, as good as many other Moore stories I’ve read. If anyone has read the Nabokov, I’d love to hear comments about it.