"Bark" by Lorrie Moore & blackberry french toast casserole
Each of Lorrie Moore’s short stories in Bark is a perfect encapsulation of a time and place, as each character struggles to orient themselves to the changing world around them. Each story reads like a meditation, roaming purposefully over the ups and downs of each brief slice of life, turning over ordinary moments for inspection like precious jewels.
The lives of the inhabitants of each story cannot be described as happy, but Moore’s acerbic observations and self-depreciating inner monologues keep the stories from dipping from meditative to bleak.
We’re used to the story of young characters searching for themselves and their place in the world, but Moore’s characters are in their middle-years and onto a different sort of challenge. They’ve already defined themselves and are now facing a different discomfort as the world continues to barrel ahead, irreverent to the individual’s personal history, changing in sometimes alarming and disheartening ways.
The closest thing to a title story is “Debarking,” a story about a recently divorced man who is dating a woman he’s frightened of at times but can’t bring himself to give up, against the backdrop of his post-divorce loneliness and unease about the 2003 bombings in Iraq.
In “Wings,” singer KC’s band has fizzled, and she and her boyfriend/previous bandmate, Dench, are subletting in an idyllic town as they try to figure out what to do next. KC takes daily walks to the coffee shop and begins to befriend an elderly man on the next block. KC struggles to define her motivations in befriending the wealthy, lonely man, while trying to piece together some understanding of Dench and their drifting relationship: “She had given up trying to determine his facetiousness level. She suspected it was all just habit and his true intent was unknown even to himself."
As someone who is still making the migration from youth to middle-age, moments of each story in Bark shine as experiences that may one day be familiar to me — a series of authentic truths that are still my could bes. For that reason, the recipe I chose is blackberry french toast — something that makes me think of lazy Sunday mornings spent with family. It’s not a thought from my past, but who’s to say it’s not another one of those could bes from my future?
BLACKBERRY FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE
- 8 cups day-old bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 cups fresh blueberries
- 12 eggs, beaten
- 2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon butter
Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish. Arrange half the bread cubes in the dish, and top with cream cheese cubes. Sprinkle 1 cup blackberries over the cream cheese, and top with remaining bread cubes.
In a large bowl, mix the eggs, milk, vanilla extract, and syrup. Pour over the bread cubes. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Remove the bread cube mixture from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
Cover, and bake 30 minutes. Uncover, and continue baking 25 to 30 minutes, until center is firm and surface is lightly browned.
In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar, cornstarch, and water. Bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, cook 3 to 4 minutes. Mix in the remaining 1 cup blackberries. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, until the blueberries burst. Stir in the butter, and pour over the baked French toast.