Now Reading
Death’s Blurred Lines in “I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home”

Death’s Blurred Lines in “I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home”

  • Our review of Lorrie Moore's latest novel, "I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home."

Most of us would kill for the chance to have one last goodbye with a lost loved one. What if you had that chance? Could even spend a whole road trip with them, revisiting all the ways your lives had intersected?

In Lorrie Moore’s first novel since 2009’s A Gate at the Stairs, the author explores—and blurs—the fine lines between the dead and the living. I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home asks questions about grief and depression with death as the platform.

It’s just before the 2016 election, and the Cubs and Indians are in the World Series. Finn is in New York visiting his brother, Max, who is dying in hospice, after Finn was suspended from his teaching job. The two watch baseball and try not to talk about the inevitable. Finn also recently ended a relationship with a depressed therapy clown named Lily, whose suicide prompts him to prematurely return home to the Midwest. His journey then becomes a dreamlike road trip for transporting the dead.

Even though both Max and Lily are still hanging on to life when the book opens, Finn senses the coming losses:

He was approaching the neighborhood of the hospice with a flash of light scarring the periphery of his right eye—from the glare of steel suddenly pulling into view and causing him to veer. The flash was now etched there, another reminder of the proximity of death, as if he needed one more. When he turned his head, it darted and flew like a quick white bat. He supposed much in his life was exactly that: a truck that had not yet hit his vision and so was just lurking blindly there, reaping and grim. The steady crawl of a tsunami in the rearview mirror, coming up from behind.

This is how Finn has been living—unable to access that part of himself that can deal with loss or admit his own sadness, especially about losing Lily, after a decade together, to another man. When Finn returns after her suicide, he visits her gravesite only to find her standing there. She wants to go to a “body farm” across the country, to be used for forensic study. He’s her ride.

An interwoven narrative in the book is a series of letters written by Elizabeth, who runs a boarding house sometime in the early 1870s. She writes the letters to her dead sister, recounting her daily moods and eventually a violent crime she commits against one of her boarders. Eventually, the two storylines cross when Finn finds her old letters in the house, which has become a roadside inn where he and Lily stay the night on their way to the farm. The “decrepit manse” still houses plenty of ghosts.

Finn, like Elizabeth, is confronted with all the questions that death brings as he communicates with a lost loved one. But Moore writes Finn with equal parts concern and humor. He makes light of suffering, more able to deal with jokes than feelings. And yet, throughout his strange few days, he begins to ask harder questions about his life and life in general. One amusing exchange between Finn and Lily in the car, as they’re trying to figure out if she’s dead or alive:

“Can one be dead?” she asked now.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean if you are being, how are you also dead?”

“I think I missed that long-ago class on linking verbs.”

See Also

They discuss their memories and arguments, and he gets to say all the things he wants to tell her before goodbye. They talk philosophy and revisit inside jokes. It is a beautifully written, disjointed exchange as they hurl toward the end—sorrowful, funny, and honest.

Finn repeatedly uses humor when he’s trying to understand if Lily is really there talking to him, half-dead: “Lily pretending to be dead! Surprise! Ha! Ha! Was this not evidence that living was funny?” But later, at his brother’s memorial service, he seems to grow. He thinks, “Did anyone really know what the story of a human life ever was?” He has lost the people close to him, all of them, yet he continues on. He recognizes that “no longer caring about a thing was key to both living and dying. So was caring about a thing.”

Finn seems to accept the not knowing, all the uncertainty that comes with life, just as Moore asks us to do with Lily’s resurrection. Does it really matter if it’s real? Talking to the dead has always been a form of comfort. Can we draw our own lines, our own boundaries at some point? Can the dead? As Elizabeth points out in one of her letters, “The afterlife overlays life in places like this because people have difficulty choosing between them.”

I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home is a chilling ghost story, hilarious and touching in its mortal wisdom.

I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home
By Lorrie Moore
Knopf Publishing Group
Published June 20, 2023

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

© 2021 All Rights Reserved.