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Anagrams Paperback – August 1, 1997
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From Publishers Weekly
Moore, praised for her short story collection Self-Help, makes her debut as a novelist with this story about what may be the disintegration of the thoroughly modern protagonist's personality. PW called Anagrams "original and highly inventive."
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Who exactly is Benna, the 33-year-old poetry teacher (or singer? or aerobics instructor?) we meet in this inventive novel? It is hard to say. She hidesfrom us, from herselfbehind imaginary identities, relationships, and scenarios in which elements of character and action are transposed like the letters of those anagrams she scribbles on napkins. Her fantasies are offered as straight narrative along with a stream of wisecracks ("All the world's a stage we're going through"). For deep down, Benna is terrified of the contingencies of reality ("One gust of wind and Santa became Satan"), longs for the very continuity she mocks. This won't be everyone's cup of tea. Still, the virtuosity of Moore's widely praised Self-Help ( LJ 3/15/85) is once again evident, and when she fleetingly reveals the vulnerability beneath the sleight of hand, it is very affecting. Elise Chase, Forbes Lib., Northampton, Mass.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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This is a devastating book more than it is hilarious. Don't let that quote from the New York Times on the cover fool you. I expected to laugh, and I did, but I didn't expect to be gutted. If you've ever gutted a pig or a chicken before, then you know it's not a pretty process. Humans aren't pigs or chickens. We're civilized folk. I read some terrible reviews somewhere that said Lorrie Moore is only depressing, that she's one-registered (like a midnight Walmart), that life isn't that bad. And I just want to say I'm glad there are some optimists left in the world. I'm glad there are people who think, "Well, my life ain't too bad, so how could anyone else's be?" Privilege is an anagram for evil gripe, which is one letter away from being evil grape, which is one adjective away from sour grape.
Moore is a highly successful author and storyteller. Even so, it's the rare book that can get me chuckling, then laughing, then roaring, and then suddenly bring me to tears. This is that rare book. Benna is a teacher who used to dance at clubs. She is 33, divorced, and troubled by loneliness. She has a 6-year old daughter called Georgianne, and a large woman friend named Eleanor. She meets Gerard, a "large, green-eyed man" who loves classical music, sings tenor in opera, and plays guitar at clubs. Their relationship is the focus of the early chapters, but what strikes the reader is the play with words they engage in. Moore must be a poet! She invents words that fit: "the ruckle of the toilet paper," "oxpecker," "mingy philodendra," and she produces fantastic images: "pantcuffs misironed into Möbius strips," "reading Hart Crane in an inner tube..." There are many plays on words: "vulva or B.M., names that sounded like foreign cars." "Add a d to poor and you get droop. Add a chromosome, get a criminal. Subtract one, get an idiot or a chipmunk....'You are my honey bunch' was not usually interchangeable with 'You are my bunny hutch.'"
Benna tells us, "There was a period when I kept trying to make anagrams out of words that weren't anagrams: moonscape and menopause, gutless and guilts, lovesick and still louse...." she scrawls lovesick and evil sock on a table in a café, and then bedroom and boredom.
I could quote from almost every page of this wonderful book, but I'll finish with "'Why are we supposed to be with men, anyway? I feel like I used to know.'
'We need them for their Phillips-head screwdrivers,' I said.
Eleanor raised her eyebrows. 'That's right, she said, 'I keep forgetting that you only go out with circumcised men.'" Later, Eleanor says, "If they can send one man to the moon, why can't they send them all?"
But the novel has far deeper themes than the jokes and word play. All the characters have problems and nothing turns out the way we expect. In fact, it's a heartbreaker--a big surprise, and highly recommended by this fussy reader. Five stars plus.
Spoiler alert: Awful main character who apparently imagines a child after an abortion or some such and then proceeds to hate on students at a junior college where she ("teacher", not a title used at colleges, so author does not know what is being written about) abuses her students and reviles their writing so that she can feel good about herself and her weirdly time-scrambled crush on some person who can't stand her.
You will not be able to stand her either once you learn how much she looks down on her students and her colleagues.
I could not finish this trainwreck of a novel. I simply could not stand the way the community college students were being described. Inexcusable. Add that to the thoroughly unlikeable main character and you have a recipe for a really toxic read. Avoid.