October 8th, 2010 / 3:55 am

Productive Imitation, Appropriation, and Transformation of Which I Strongly Approve

Note the similarities (and, as importantly, the¬†differences) between the openings to Lorrie Moore’s “How to Be An Other Woman” (from Self-Help, 1985) and Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” (from Drown, 1996), a story that seems to this reader to be written in homage, ten years later, to Moore’s story. Both stories are from debut collections, both collections introduce voicey masters to the world, both masters continue to write deeply idiosyncratic work subsequently, but usually not in second person:

From Lorrie Moore’s “How to Be an Other Woman”

“Meet in expensive raincoats, on a pea-soupy night. Like a detective movie. First, stand in front of Florsheim’s Fifty-seventh Street window, press your face close to the glass, watch the fake velvet Hummels inside revolving around the wing tips; some white shoes, like your father wears, are propped up with garlands on a small mount of chemical snow. All the stores have closed. You can see your breath on the glass. Draw a peace sign. You are waiting for a bus.”


From Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie”

“Wait for your brother and your mother to leave the apartment. You’ve already told them that you’re feeling too sick to go to Union City to visit that tia who likes to squeeze your nuts. (He’s gotten big, she’ll say.) And even though your moms knows you ain’t sick you stuck to your story until finally she said, Go ahead and stay, malcriado.”

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  1. keedee

      “It depends. What’s intellectual property law?”
      He grins. “Oh, you know. Where leisure is a suit.”

  2. supple

      I’d go with homage, as I doubt there’s been a creative writing professor in the last two decades that hasn’t prompted students to write a “how to” story.