Authors: Lorrie Moore
Tags: #Adult, #Contemporary
“The very talented Lorrie Moore has always enjoyed a fabulous reputation among critics for her bittersweet humor, graceful writing, and sensitive insights.… She proves how much she deserves that reputation—and a larger reading audience.”
“The most astute and lasting [writer] … of her generation.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Lorrie Moore is a terrifically beguiling writer.”
—The Plain Dealer
“A gift for going to the heart of heartache, for details that make your own skin tingle in recognition and for finding the absurd humor in human endeavor.”
—Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
“Moore is a talented writer—startlingly talented.… Her micro-managed descriptive prose shows genius, precisely pinning fluttering phenomena.”
“Lorrie Moore is dazzling, funny, and smart.”
“A wonderful novel—bold, exhilarating, mysterious and merry.”
The Sunday Times
“America’s most wry and radiant comic writer.… Her books [are] compact, perfectly sculpted comic masterpieces.… Moore’s piquant wit and intellectual grace mesh beautifully.”
“Hilarious, sparky and very tender,
is the work of an outstanding talent.”
“Moore is marvelously in control of her material, has a nice critical sense of humour, and a flair which reminded me of Isherwood and Sally Bowles, and Capote and Holly Golightly.”
is cleverly constructed and enchanting, full of funny one-liners and sharp observations about life for the over-30s. It is also, under the sparkle, deeply moving, playful and ingenious, as one would expect.”
Lorrie Moore is the author of the story collections
Birds of America, Self-Help
, and the novels
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?
. Her work has appeared in
The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories
Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards
. She is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
ALSO BY LORRIE MOORE
Birds of America
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?
FIRST VINTAGE CONTEMPORARIES EDITION, MARCH
Copyright © 1986 by M. L. Moore
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1986.
Vintage and colophon are registered trademarks and Vintage Contemporaries is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:
Mills Music Inc
.: Excerpt from the lyrics to “St. James Infirmary,” by Joe Primrose. Copyright 1929 by Mills Music Inc. Copyright renewed. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc
. : Excerpt from “Through the Looking Glass” from
Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll, Norton Critical edition, edited by Donald J. Gray. Copyright © 1971 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
Anagrams : a novel / Lorrie Moore.—1st ed.
1. Women—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3563.O6225 A8 1986
For their helpfulness and support, many thanks go to the following: Victoria Wilson, Melanie Jackson, Joe Bellamy, Alison Lurie, Richard Estell, Margaret Moore, Mike Sangria, Sheila Schwartz, Gary Mailman, Kelly Cherry (and her typewriter), Ron Wallace, and my parents. My gratitude also to Yaddo, where part of this book was written.
is derived from the Tartar word
meaning “the earth” … From this some mistakenly came to believe that the great beast had always lived underground, burrowing like a big mole. And they were sure it died when it came to the surface and breathed fresh air!
—Roy Chapman Andrews
All About Strange Beasts of the Past
I shall be telling this with a sigh …
“The Road Not Taken”
I don’t think there’s anything in that black bag for me.
The Wizard of Oz
AINES LIVED ACROSS THE HALL
from a woman named Benna, who four minutes into any conversation always managed to say the word
. He was not a prude, but, nonetheless, it made him wince. He worked with children all day, taught a kind of aerobics to pre-schoolers, and the most extreme language he was likely to hear seemed to him to be in code, in acronyms, or maybe even in German—
boo-boo, finky, peenick—
words that were difficult to figure out even in context, and words, therefore, from which he felt quite safe. He suspected it was not unlike people he knew who hated operas in translation. “Believe me,” they would explain, “you just don’t want to know what they’re saying.”
Today they were talking about families.
“Fathers and sons,” she said, “they’re like governments: always having sword fights with their penises.”
“Really,” said Gerard, sitting at her kitchen table, gulping at
near-beer for breakfast. He palmed his beard like a man trying to decide.
“But what do I know.” She smiled and shrugged. “I grew up in a trailer. It’s not like a real family with a house.” This was her excuse for everything, her own self-deprecating refrain; she’d grown up in a trailer in upstate New York and was therefore unqualified to pronounce on any of the subjects she continued to pronounce on.
Gerard had his own line of self-excuse: “I was a retard in my father’s play.”
“A retard in your father’s play?”
“Yes,” he said, realizing that faced with the large questions of life and not finding large answers, one must then settle for makeshift, little answers, just as on any given day a person must at least eat
, even if it was not marvelous and huge. “He wrote plays in our town. Then he did the casting and directing. It was harder to venture out through the rest of life after that.”
“How awful for you,” said Benna, pouring more near-beer into both their glasses.
“Yes,” he said. He loved her very much.
Benna was a nightclub singer. Four nights a week she put on a black mini-dress and what she wearily called her Joan-Crawford-catch-me-have-me shoes, and went off to sing at the various cocktail lounges around Fitchville. Sometimes Gerard would go see her and drink too much. In the spotlight up front she seemed to him hopelessly beautiful, a star, her glass jewelry launching quasars into the audience, her laughter rumbling into the mike. He’d watch other men fall in love with her; he knew the fatuous gaze, the free drinks sent over between songs—he’d done that himself. Sometimes he would stay for all three sets and buy her a hamburger afterward or just give her a ride home. Other times,
when it was crowded, he would leave her to her fans—the businessmen with loosened neckties, the local teenage girls who idolized her, the very musicians she hired to play with her—and would go home and sit in his bathroom, in his bone-dry tub, with his clothes on, waiting. The way their apartments were laid out, their bathrooms shared a wall, and Gerard could sit in his own tub and await her two-in-the-morning return, hear her enter her bathroom, hear her pee, hear the ruckle of the toilet-paper roll, the metal-sprung flush, the sliding shower door, the squirt, spray, hiss of the water. Sometimes he would call to her through the tiles. She would turn off the shower and yell, “Gerard, are you talking to me?”
“Yes, I’m talking to you. No. I’m talking to Zero Mostel.”
“Listen, I’m tired. I’m going to bed.”
Once she came home at three in the morning, completely drunk, and knocked on his door. When he opened it, she was slumped against the frame, eyes closed, shoes in hand. “Gerard,” she drawled, thrusting her shoes at him, “will you make love to me?” and then she sank to the floor and passed out.
Every morning she downed a whole six-pack of near-beer. “You know, I’m a widow,” she said, and then told him quickly about a husband, a lawyer who had been killed in a car crash.
“You’re so young,” murmured Gerard. “It must have been devastating.”
“Nah,” she exhaled, and then, peeling an orange, sang “O what a beautiful mourning,” just that line. “I don’t know,” she said, and shrugged.
Near their apartment building was a large baseball field, rarely used. From Gerard’s living-room window he could see the field’s old rotting scoreboard, weathered as driftwood, its paint peeling but still boasting the neat and discernible lettering:
. When he’d first moved into the apartment, the words seemed to mock him—scoring, underscoring, his own displacement and aloneness—so much that he would close the blinds so as not to have to look at them.
Occasionally now, however, late at night, he would venture out onto the diamond and, if it was summer and warm, would sprawl out on the ground at a place just to the left of the pitcher’s mound and stare up at the sky. It was important to dizzy yourself with stars, he thought. Too often you forgot they were even there. He could stare at one star, one brilliant and fidgety star, so long that his whole insides seemed suddenly to rush out into the sky to meet it. It was like the feeling he’d had as a boy playing baseball, focusing on the pitched ball with such concentration that the bat itself seemed at the crucial moment to leap from him with a loud smack and greet the ball mid-air.
As an adult he rarely had those moments of connection, though what ones he’d had recently seemed mostly to be with the children he taught. He’d be showing them how to do reaches and bends—like trees, he would tell them—and when he put on music and finally had them do it, their eyes would cry “Look at me! I’m doing it!” the sudden bonds between them and him magical as home runs. More and more he was becoming convinced that it was only through children that one could connect with anything anymore, that in this life it was only through children that one came home, became a home, that one was no longer a visitor.
“Boy, are you sentimental,” Benna told him. “I feel like I’m talking to a Shirley Temple movie.” Benna was a woman who knew when she was ovulating by the dreams she’d have of running through corridors to catch trains; she was also a woman who said she had no desire to have children. “I watched my friend Eleanor give birth,” she said. “Once you’ve seen a child born you realize a baby’s not much more than a reconstituted ham and
cheese sandwich. Just a little anagram of you and what you’ve been eating for nine months.”