Discussion of Lorrie Moore's "How To Be The Other Woman"

  Post your answer in the comments below. Make sure to include the number of the question you're answering and either cut and paste the question or answer in complete sentences so that we know which question you're answering.


A-8, B-9, C-10, D-11, E-12, F-13, G-1, H-2, I-3, J-4, K-5, L-6, M-7

If you have further thoughts or questions about the story, please feel to also post these below. 

13 Questions To Ask of Every Story: 

1.          What makes this story “literary”? 

 

2.          Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

 

3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

 

4.          Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

 

5.          Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

 

6.          Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

 

7.          Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

 

8.          Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

 

9.          Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

 

10.      Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

 

11.      Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

 

12.      What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it? 


13.    How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

Comments

  1. 4. Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

    A: The conflict in this story is that the main character finds herself caught in an affair with a married man. Initially, things aren't so bad. But as the story progresses, the main character begins to feel the negative effects of being the "other woman"; she begins to question her identity, she becomes paranoid about encountering her lover's wife and begins to grow jealous of her. The story ends before we see how the affair fully plays out, leaving us to wonder how (or if) the main character ends up resolving these deep internal conflicts.

    -Alec

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    1. Yep, the conflict is fairly near from the beginning, but we fee it build in intensity.

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  2. 12. What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it?
    I think the reader is suppose to see how bad it can make a woman feel when she is another man's mistress. I think as writers, we can learn that stories can be told in anyway possible. For example, in this story, Lorrie Moore tells the story about a woman that is living a life as somebody's mistress and it's told as a "How to" guide book which I think is probably the most interesting way that you could tell this kind of story because it can tell how others like the woman in the story can feel in this kind of situation.

    -Micahael

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    1. -Michael (sorry, did not mean to spell my name like that).

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    2. Agreed. We can see how thinking outside of the normal story box can work with this story.

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  3. 10. Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

    1. “Unfortunately, you have lost the respect of all but one of your co-workers and many of your superiors as well, who are working in order to send their daughters to universities so they won’t have to be secretaries, and who, therefore, hold you in contempt for having a degree and being a failure anyway.” (6)
    I liked this line because it showed characterization of the main character and how she feels bad about herself through the eyes of the people around her. It was a good way to add details about her while also showing how it affects her.
    2. “Whisper, ‘Don’t go yet,’ as he glides out of your bed before sunrise and you lie there on your back cooling, naked between the sheets and smelling of musky, oniony sweat. Feel gray, like an abandoned locker room towel.” (8)
    I liked this line because it is so vivid of a description, using smell, touch, and sight. It’s such a good description and it makes me feel like I am there.
    3. “They are half-friendly, conspiratorial, amused at the reconnaissance of yours, like little smiling men from the open hatches of a fleet of military submarines.” (11)
    This metaphor stuck out to me because it really captured what the shoes looked like and how the main character was feeling at the time. The strangeness of this section expressed how the character felt guilty and unsure about the wife and how she was spiraling out of control.

    -Bailey

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    1. I loved that first line, too. It was funny, but there was an underlying pain to it.

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  4. 5. Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?
    I feel like the climax of the story comes when the man talks about how his wife is good at making lists. This makes "you" upset and every once in a while the story is interrupted by a list. Kind of proving to the man that "we're" good at making a list like his wife is, or at least "we've" become obsessed with list making. The relationship also after that point doesn't seem to be as strong as the start of the short story as well.
    Another area that could also be considered the climax is when "you" get taken to the man's apartment and "you" feel out of place there. Especially when "you" see the picture of the wife in the bedroom and "you" start to feel wrong about the whole situation. "You" start to feel paranoid about the wife being almost anywhere.

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    1. Both of these events are key in the story. (Of course, the climax isn't either, now that we understand we haven't read the last few pages,) Both complicate the conflict nicely. I especially appreciate you calling attention to how the lists change the 'you"

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  5. Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?
    There is no story outside of the characters. The two’s affair and the woman’s internal conflict and guilt drive the action of the piece. The man withholding the fact that he is married incites the action and tension. The woman’s reaction is interesting: she seems hesitant to respond and the tension is tangible. What she says determines where they are able to go from there. And she plays off her concern and guilt, but that does not mean they do not exist. She continues to think about his wife, and the fact she’s a mistress, and all the ways that Patricia is better than her to the point that she too starts making lists to mentally compete with her. This comes to a head when he invites her over to his apartment when Patricia is out of town, and she has to see the physical evidence of his life with another woman. Just as telling as the photograph are her clothes. Patricia owns the clothes of a lawyer, just another way that the mistress feels she does not measure up, which leads to her looking for new jobs. The question to me is if she feels guilty, inadequate, or both.

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    1. It's helpful to watch how Moore leads us to feel certain things (and the "You" of the story to feel certain things) but simply letting her confront the physical details of the wife's life.

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  6. 8. Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

    There is something about second person that is really jarring and so incredibly personal as you look through it and for some reason understand. By forcing the reader into this sense of self, it puts you into perspective of this woman. Stuck in a place she can’t think to leave, until the next day rolls around and it happens all over again. Especially in a quote near the end “Wonder who you are” (8). When trying to figure out your place with someone, it feels like this. Like you don’t know, or don’t want to know, what they think of you. It’s something that consumes you until you have to force yourself to let it crash and burn, or let it go. Something which our author does especially well.

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    1. Second person is so fun! And you're right--it is intensely personal, as you're being asked to walk in this character's shoes and see out of her eyes.

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  7. 9. Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

    I find that the setting is reflective of the lives that the protagonist really lusts for in a futile attempt to live the best of both worlds. Under the actions she claims herself as machoistic, she acts and lives in the lives of where she has slept in location and slept with. She attempts to make her mark on her own life and breathes hope into what she cannot possess, and that includes enacting the part defined by her location. She mimics the haughty nature of the rooms she finds herself in with behaviors that she finds appropriate, and the double life she leads slowly erodes. I find that the best example of this is right at the beginning. Her everyday transit is contrasted sharply by the locations she would never access herself: the movies, the concerts, and two-and-a-half museums gives her pleasure in a false freedom.

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    1. I am especially interested in contrasting the movies, concerts, and museum's with Charlene's regular life. You're so right to point out the duality of the settings, here.

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  8. 2. Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

    This story strips away the often glamorized, or over dramatacized view of adultery. And I would argue that the use of second person aids this. The specificity of this short story's contents is impeccable. Overall, this story is so dense, but in an enjoyable and readable way. Although it was published in 1985, the female struggle that Lorrie Moore portrays is still very relevant today. There was one particular stream of dialogue that kind of summed this up:
    "'What are you going to do?'
    'I don't know."
    'Yeah,' says Hilda. 'That's typical.'" (page 6)

    Another line that is universally relatable: "Wonder who you are." (page 8) The inner turmoil of this story that is portrayed as being the reader is definitely relatable to most people (taking away the component that is the affair)

    On a personal note, the ending left me wanting more! But it made sense as this story had a "choose your own adventure" type feel. It almost leaves the ending up to the reader. This seems like a story to read every few years and reflect upon it with your new life experiences. I think that is one reason why it has endured.

    - Elizabeth S.

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  9. 13. How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

    The aspect of this story that makes it stand out from the other stories we have read is the second-person narration. This is the first we have read to have this point of view, and it is a rare one indeed. Second-person narration is hard to pull off because the use of "you" can sometimes make the reader come too close to the subject matter, which can wake them from the night dream, especially if the story isn't a situation they relate to. I think that it works in this story though because of how Moore frames it by calling the story "How to be an Other Woman". This makes the story feel more like a step-by-step guide, which we are more used to reading. This makes the story feel like "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid, which isn't second-person, but it is a list of instructions. Even though the situations in the stories aren't identifiable to everyone, including me, they work because the tension between the format telling us this is how it is supposed to be and the tone which says the speaker doesn't agree with what they are being told. Charlene is telling the story as instructions because she is trying to tell herself that she should accept the situation because that is just the way it is, even though the story is telling us she isn't happy with the relationship and how it makes her feel about herself.

    -Logan O.

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    1. I am reminded of the Kincaid story, too. They both feel immediate and both build tension in similar ways.

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  10. 1. Why is the story literary?

    The story is told as though it is a "How To.." guide for woman and how to be the other woman. It uses second person narration which is not the usual first or third person narrative in non-literary stories. The plot and way the story develops shows how it is literary because the main story-line develops through the guide and through the mistress. She soon becomes jealous of the wife and then uncomfortable and all of that is shown through the guide and her analysis of the guide for the other woman. Also, dialogue and actions are very important in literary stories and I think both continue to move the story on for the purpose of the plot.

    -Taylor

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    1. True. It has all the hallmarks of literary fiction: character driven. Language oriented. Trying to shed light on some element of human experience, without judging it.

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