Alfred A. Knopf
Ms. Hen decided to read this book because she had read another Lorrie Moore book years ago, and she knows she is one of the great writers of our time. Ms. Moore is known as a short story writer, but is a novelist as well.
When Ms. Hen started reading this, she didn’t quite know what it was. She thought it might have been a novel, but other stories appeared. All the stories in the book have the same characters in different situations, like an anagram. An anagram is a word that can form another word by rearranging the letters; this collection rearranges the characters in the story to make a different story.
A woman, Benna, and a man, Gerard, are sometimes friends or lovers in different stories. Benna has a friend Eleanor, who in other stories is involved with Gerard. The various characters are lounge singers, college professors, or aerobics instructors. They sit in diners and proselytize their thoughts on the world around them. They live in a small town in upstate New York.
At first when Ms. Hen started reading this, she had no idea what year it was published. She didn’t understand why there was no technology until she learned it was published in 1986. She wondered how books about people and relationships have changed since the advent of the Internet and cell phones. She wonders if these characters would have an entire different outlook on life, if they had existed twenty or thirty years later. This book seems like an anachronism to Ms. Hen, a window to the way the world used to be, unlike some other books she had read about this time.
The style of this collection is exquisite. Ms. Hen could not get over how clever the writing is in ANAGRAMS. It is the work of a genius of words; everything that is written is perfect and funny. Ms. Hen doesn’t know if people like this actually exist in the world, who say exact funny things at every moment, but she found it entertaining.
Ms. Hen heard the author Mary Gaitskill give a lecture once about the importance of being original in our writing. That’s all she said for an hour and a half, but Lorrie Moore is another one of the authors who succeeds at that. Ms. Hen thinks it is difficult to pull off such wit for an entire book. Ms. Hen doesn’t think people are as charming as they used to be. In the days before constant entertainment online, people had to work to amuse each other more. Ms. Hen thinks this is sad, that society is losing its tendency to be funny to technology. Everything these days is dumb humor, and Ms. Hen had no tolerance for that.
Ms. Hen did find one chicken in this book. The character, Benna is writing Christmas cards in a diner, and she sees, “the faded photo of fried chicken over the counter: six pieces dead and breaded, arranged carefully in a circle on a plate with parsley and cranberry sauce, red and green, like Christmas.” This is at a low point in Benna’s life; she is depressed because she has to face reality, and other things. Ms. Hen thinks the chicken is there, and she mentions that it is dead, because everything will be dead some day.
Ms. Hen loved this book. It’s strange and entertaining, and a window to a different time. People are still dysfunctional in the same way today. That’s what timeless writing does, it shows us how we are and how we’ve always been.