This is a treasure of a book. The quality of imagery and the depth of detail and the way her wild, weird and wonderful mind works is something to behold. The prose is bursting with originality, surrealism, life and colour on every page. The ways Moore sees things and manages to capture them so perfectly and eloquently is such a gift. The power and inventiveness of her imagination, keeps throwing up so many surprises. There are so many stunning insights into the banal and every day, but such is the power of her writing that it elevates them into pure alchemy. This is a tender, sad, smart and hilarious piece of work. This put me very much in mind of Ali Smith and A.M. Homes, both possibly influenced to some extent by Moore, either way this was an absolute pleasure to read, like sinking into a deep, warm bath after a long, hard day.
Lorrie Moore writes wonderful short stories, but here she tries for a novel. It is a very funny book, crackling with wit and wordplay, not to mention the lady-cannibal jokes. However, there is a strange starting point which seems to be a novel about the characters falling into and out of love, which abruptly stops half way through and then starts again, with the same characters but a different scenario.
Never mind. Lorrie Moore is a superb writer and if she wants to start again that's fine by me. I particularly enjoyed the second starting point where our main protagonist, Benna, is a poetry tutor in a community college, with an on-off relationship with a lounge bar pianist who wants to be an opera singer.
Looking back, it seems as if the first chapter is a short story, the next few chapters begin the short story at a different point which turns into a novel which then abruptly stops, and the final chapters are a novel using the same characters. One wonders how she gets away with it, but she does because she is witty and clever and you just go where she wants you to go. The clue is in the title, perhaps, or perhaps she is being deliberately self-indulgent and indecisive, but it's a wonderful read just the same.
Anagrams was Lorrie Moore's first novel, and though she has since been critical of it when interviewed, it remains an excellent debut. The central tenet, of a woman seeing the different possibilities of her life has been explored well elsewhere - Carol Anshaw's Aquamarine is a good example - but the sheer quality of Moore's writing, her pastiche of genre and form, and her ludic sense, as well as her observation of the eclectic mix of sensitivities and appropriated behaviours of her characters makes this novel companionable and moving. The anagrams cast from the same basic facts, of thirtysomething existence against a college background, tell something about the endless potential of our lives, in the scrabble bag of lovers, kids, friends, jobs, homes. Sassier than Anne Tyler, and mentally quicker than the most recent Jane Smiley or Alison Lurie novels, it's a compelling portrait of two women - the writer Moore and her creation, Benna - exploring their own diversities. (As a footnote, Faber are getting rid of the terrific Anora Spence illustrations on the covers, which is a pity: they fit well with the tones of Moore's novels.)
This book has much in common with its central character, Benna Carpenter. Like her it is obscure, overlooked, and unseen - and endlessly inventive. Full of wisecracks and seemingly wry candour, Benna seems to live life to the full; anecdotes about her young daughter, a best friend, a lover, an ex husband and a couple of careers clutter her conversation and it's a little way into the book before you start to realise she's making them all up. Her life falls apart in suburban America and the pieces can only be glued with imagination and perseverance. Or denial and lying.
Moore's writing is merciful but unflinchining and her conversational style belies the electrical energy that makes every line hum. Some would call it poetry. And with the lightest touch she shows, in this modest little novel, how people become sidetracked, left behind, lonely, and how beautiful, humanitarian writing turns pain into art. What else can I say to make you read this wonderful book? That you'll phone up friends and say 'Listen to this...'? Sure. That it's one of the Great American Novels? Check. How about that it has some lines you will never forget? Anagrams is one of those milestone books you pick up again and again and each time see something else within the familiar.
Having found Moores' 'Who Will Run the Frog Hospital' a mild yet reoccuring addiction for the past five years or so, I am compelled say that I was somewhat let down by this offering, but still found it an intriguing read. 'Anagrams'is by no means lustrous, it draws us into the dark cavity that is Brenna's life. If the aim of this novel is to show a life woven from desparation and false hope it has certainly been achieved. I was not uplifted by this at all, but left instead questioning my own life - a common outcome with the rest of Lori's works. I remain in awe of Moore and her ability to understand what it is to be human, her writing is ever perceptive and versatile. If you have never read Moore before, think along the lines of Margaret Atwood, perhaps even a touch of Plath's 'The Bell Jar'. It may be advisable to start with 'Who Will Run the Frog Hospital' to get to the heart of this author.