Anagrams by Lorrie Moore

Margaret Atwood has a great short story called “Happy Endings” that I kept thinking about as I read this book. The link that I originally posted to the story had expired, but you should try and track it down and read it immediately.

I’m not kidding here, guys. Go find it, read it, and then come back to this review. I’ll wait.

Okay, good. So I don’t know which came first, “Happy Endings” or Anagrams, but I feel almost sure that one of them had to influence the other. Anagrams is about two people, Benna and Gerard, who are in love – sort of. When we first meet them, they are living in adjacent apartments which they essentially share. Benna is a nightclub singer, Gerard works with preschoolers. We see them interact, talking about their lives and generally being messed-up people, and then a new chapter starts. In this one, Gerard is a singer and Benna teaches dance to senior citizens. They talk about their lives and are generally messed-up people, and then a new chapter starts. The details of Benna and Gerard’s lives change, but the central story stays the same: two lonely, unhappy people are trying to figure out their lives and each other, and not doing a very good job at it.

I make it sound depressing, but it’s surprisingly not. Lorrie Moore’s characters are smart and witty and sprinkle their conversation with literary puns and play-on-words that are actually entertaining, unlike the work of some pun-loving authors I could name but won’t (Did you guess Jasper Fforde? Jasper Fforde was the author I was talking about. It’s Jasper Fforde.) and she writes with that delightfully bitter, dry, funny voice I’m so fond of:

“One in Modern Dance class in college one sunny September afternoon we had been requested to be leaves tumbling ourselves across the arts quad. I knew how to perform it in a way that prevented embarrassment and indignity: One became a dead leaf, a cement leaf. One lay down on the dying grass and refused to blow and float and tumble. One merely crumpled. One was no fool. One did not listen to the teacher. One did not want to be spotted fluttering around on campus, like the others who were clearly psychotics. One did not like this college. One wanted only to fall in love and get a Marriage Equivalent. One just lay there.”

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out exactly what’s going on in the book (especially in the beginning, when I didn’t know about the shifting-details thing) and sometimes it’s depressing and sometimes it’s sort of hard to keep going, but I didn’t care because the whole book is full of little spots of brilliance like this:

“I’ve found that you can best entrap ants with the corpse of another ant. A squashed one of their own in the middle of the floor, and boom, like stubborn Antigones, they rush out to bury their dead brother and get nabbed.”

and that made it all worth it.

Verdict: four out of five stars

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