Moore had a decidedly dismal childhood. She doesn’t divulge details, though she alludes to abuse and neglect, stretches of feeling unsafe, a father who slept in the basement and “grow[ing] up without real parenting or boundaries.” Her essays explore the personal aftermath of such an upbringing: forming “anxious attachments” that have sent lovers and friends fleeing; a post-runaway stint spent sleeping in her car; and breaking down in tears at otherwise benign moments, like having to identify an emergency contact. “It makes me feel as I have always felt, very deeply: that I belong to no one,” she writes.
Moore doesn’t speak to the family who raised her (or rather, didn’t raise her at all), but the damage is done, leaving her both hardened and ever on the verge of breaking, like a wall of easily shattered glass. Without a familial safety net, she spirals into existential panic when exposed to things both horrendous — like her first Brooklyn apartment, a roach-infested drug den — and utterly well-meaning, like an invitation to an “Orphan Thanksgiving” frustratingly comprised not of orphans, but of peers who couldn’t find cheap flights home.
Moore vacillates between being hopeful and defeatist, between seeking movie-worthy romantic love (“I am ready for meet-cutes at all times”) and darting off on exhaustive emotional sprints (“Can we get this over with, I’m so tired and I just want to travel and eat and smile and move through the world with a semblance of peace”). In each case, all roads lead back to the family she didn’t have — and the feeling that behind every door but hers were the luckiest people in the world.
Moore’s writing often reads like an angsty teen’s diary: sometimes overwrought (ill-advised casual sex makes her “turn off parts of my heart and my brain, which are two of my favorite — and most vital — parts of myself”); sometimes comically self-pitying (Jesus, she insists, caught a better break: at least he “had a family”); sometimes dismissively breezy (a disappointing hookup is described as “just, bad bad bad bad bad”); and sometimes prone to triumphant swells of self-approval (“Maybe the people who knew me for five minutes and immediately saw how lovable I was saw it because it permeated everything around me and was refracted all around the room, so was clear to anyone who was paying attention”).
Still, Moore’s story offers insights about the effects of childhood trauma and our capacity for resilience. An admission that her creative success has amassed her “a lot of internet friends with whom I trade voice memos and GIFs . . . [but] I do not have anyone I would call if I were dying,” is a sobering statement on our culture — and a reminder that we could all use a little more connection, familial or otherwise.
Rachel Rosenblit is a freelance writer and editor in New York.
How to Be Alone
If You Want To, and Even If You Don't
By Lane Moore
Atria. 224 pp. $16.