Lorrie Moore writes stories about space aliens. The stories tend to take one of two forms: the Invasion of the Body Snatchers narrative (it dawns on our heroine that she is surrounded by aliens, or married to one), or the A.I. narrative (it dawns on our heroine that she is the alien). The stories in the former category resemble the science-fiction film Moore describes in “Real Estate,” in her third collection, Birds of America:
She was especially stirred by a movie she saw about a beautiful widow who fell in love with a space alien who had assumed human form—the form of the woman’s long lost husband! Eventually, however, the man had to go back to his real home, and an immense and amazing spaceship came to get him, landing in a nearby field. To Ruth, it seemed so sad and true, just like life: someone assumed the form of the great love of your life, only to reveal himself later as an alien who had to get on a spaceship and go back to his planet.
Ruth finds herself in an analogous position: her husband no longer seems himself, and the house that they’ve bought, in a halfhearted attempt to save their marriage, is as inhospitable as a foreign planet. Like the spaceship Nostromo from Alien, the house even has a stowaway—a homeless teenager who Ruth discovers has been living in the attic. Tassie Keltjin, the frequently bemused narrator of Moore’s most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs (2009), experiences a similar sense of disorientation when she returns home from college, finding that “everyone here seemed a stranger, if not an outright alien.” This premise is often played for a melancholy humor, but it takes a horrific turn in Moore’s masterpiece, “People Like That Are the Only People Here”: “When your child has cancer, you are instantly whisked away to another planet: one of bald-headed little boys.”
The second category, the A.I. narrative, includes stories like “To Fill,” whose heroine wonders, “Am I from outer space?” after a botched attempt at polite conversation (efforts to make polite conversation in Moore’s stories always end catastrophically), and “The Jewish Hunter,” in which a man smiles at our heroine “as if he thought she was cute but from outer space, like something that would soon be made into a major motion picture and then later into a toy.”