Dear Tell All: Isthmus just wrote about the new novel by UW-Madison professor Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs ("At Long Last Lorrie Moore," 9/4/09). In the interview, Moore scoffs at any attempt to connect the novel's college-town setting to Madison. But the parallels between "Troy" and our own college town seem pretty striking. Do you think it's basically Madison, or am I just stupid for wondering, as Moore implies?
Dear Trojan: This is a novel in which maids, rural folk, Dubuque provincials and even Muslim terrorists all quip in the same relentlessly jokey voice; in which farmers tend their fields dressed up like a hawk; and in which a young woman crawls into a coffin at a funeral to commune with a disfigured corpse. With elements like these, the novel can't be said to occur in any real place.
Still, if Moore is annoyed when locals see Madison in the story, she has only herself to blame. In the Isthmus interview, she insisted that Troy "couldn't be Madison." And yet one of her characters notes that rhythm & blues singer Otis Redding died there, and where else did that happen but Madison? Where else is the Freedom From Religion Foundation based?
Once you know that you're essentially here in town, it's fun to hunt for familiar sights, sometimes disguised and sometimes not. Moore doesn't bother to change the name of the local sex boutique A Woman's Touch, describing it accurately as "a tiny chapel to the penis."
Sometimes Moore keeps the names of local entities but puts them in a different location. Lombardino's, the restaurant on Old University Avenue with corny sayings printed on the walls, is plopped down in Green Bay: "We wound up at a supper club called Lombardino's, which over the bar had a sign that read BETTER TO OUTLIVE AN ELF THAN OUTDRINK A DWARF."
You'll recognize Badgers in Moore's description of college football fans, "the red of their thousands of sweatshirts like an invasion of bright bugs." You'll recognize Monroe Street in "Wendell Street" and L'Etoile in the French restaurant Le Petit Moulin: "one of those expensive restaurants downtown, every entrée freshly hairy with dill, every soup and dessert dripped upon as preciously as a Pollock...."
Moore made a condescending remark about Madison in a recent New York Times interview. Strolling by an Indian restaurant near the Capitol, she told the interviewer, "You walk around and you get a whiff of garlic and you feel like you are in a real city."
Hey, go easy on us, Lorrie. Don't bite the hand that feeds you your material.
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