Thursday, May 8, 2014

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore

As this novel opens, Berie, a curator of historical photographs, and her medical researcher husband Daniel are in Paris, trying to pretend that they are happily married. The novel then flashes back to Berie's childhood in a small town in upstate New York. Much of this narrative focuses on her best friend Sils, who is more sexually and socially advanced than Berie--the type of girl who seems like she will have a big life.  Then Berie gets caught stealing from the amusement park where the friends worked in the summer (she originally began her life of crime to get together the money for Sils to have an abortion), and her parents send her to Christian summer camp and then to boarding school. With distance, her relationship with Sils becomes less intense/comfortable, and Berie eventually moves away from their home town for college and work. At their tenth high school reunion, she is surprised that Sils, who has never left their home town, has become a rather boring (if not pathetic) adult. Ten years later, Berie reflects on what she has learned in life as another relationship--her marriage--comes apart.

Seem like a pretty thin plot? That's one of my problems with the book. Another is the fact that despite being in her head, we don't really understand the adult Berie very well--but Moore must want us to or she wouldn't have set the "stuck-in-Paris-with-a-husband-you-don't-love-anymore" frame around the coming-of-age story. The book really seems like primarily an excuse for Moore to show off her writing chops--and they are impressive, but not impressive enough for me to recommend this book.

Favorite passage:
My childhood had no narrative; it was all just a combination of air and no air: waiting for life to happen, the body to get big, the mind to grow fearless. There were no stories, no ideas, not really, not yet. Just things unearthed from elsewhere and propped up later to help the mind get around. At the time, however, it was liquid, like a song--nothing much. It was just a space with some people in it.

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