A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore. Who also wrote one of my favorite short stories ever, People Like That Are The Only People Here. (Read it. Really. Right now.) She’s absolutely hilarious and her writing is just beautiful: effortless, clear, crisp, sad. Here’s my favorite quote so far from A Gate at the Stairs, about a farmer’s daughter who leaves her tiny Midwestern hometown for college life:
“We had also once had an ebullient pig named Helen, who would come when you called her name and smiled like a dolphin when you spoke to her. And then we didn’t see her for a few days, and one morning over bacon and eggs, my brother said, ‘Is this Helen?’ I dropped my fork and cried, ‘This is Helen? Is this Helen?!’ and my mother, too, stopped eating and looked hard at my father “Bo, is this Helen?’ The next pig we got we never met and its name was #WK3746.”
I know the joke itself might be a little tired, but there’s something about the way she writes it – especially the mother’s reaction – that just kills me. I’ve reread it about 10 times now and laughed out loud – alone, in my apartment – each time.