Alison Moore (The Lighthouse) is a purveyor of memory. Her stories usually focus on where the past and present converge, when old traumas grow too great to bear and burst to the surface of her characters' lives. This nebulous flow of time gives her work a dreamlike quality, so that The Pre-War House, a collection of short stories, feels like reading through someone's reveries.
The people in The Pre-War House are average, as are their terrors and heartbreaks, but that is precisely what makes Moore's work so affecting. She is uninterested in romanticism, nor using fiction to plot out the extraordinary. Instead, she takes moments that are at once tragic and quotidian, teasing out the former so that it overtakes the latter. The final story, which gives the collection its title, is the longest, and perhaps the best, deftly weaving multiple timelines as an unnamed narrator packs up her father's house and prepares for its sale. Slowly but surely Moore exposes the traumas the pre-war house witnessed, never turning away from the very human tragedy at the core.
The characters aren't special, certainly not at first, but give Moore a few pages and their lost chances in life are stunningly revealed in a way that can't help but be affecting. In the hands of a lesser author, the collection might be too pitiful, too hard to consume, but Moore finds the right balance, keeping stories short and atmospheric enough to draw readers into deeply and beautifully rendered lives. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.