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Lorrie Moore: Anagrams

Moore’s first novel, after publishing a successful collection of short stories, got mixed reviews, which is a pity, as it really is a good novel. It is the story of Benna Carpenter, a nightclub singer, widow (her husband had been killed in a car crash) and lover of Gerard Maines (sort of) who lives across the hall and is an aerobic instructor. She uses the word penis every four minutes. This is told in the third person. In the second chapter, told in the first person (by Benna), things change. She is now Gerard’s lover. He is a musician (performing both in a modern version of Dido and Aeneas and playing jazz guitar in a nightclub), while she is between jobs. She also has a lump in her breast. She gets pregnant, tells Gerard that she is going to have an abortion (which she does have) and they have a row. Her best friend, Eleanor, then sleeps with him.

Of course, as we soon learn, much of this is in Benna’s imagination. She is a poet (and has an affair with a black Vietnam veteran who is taking her poetry class). She is an aerobics instructor. She has an imaginary daughter, Georgianne (George), whom she loves dearly. Above all, she and her imaginary friend, particularly Eleanor, love puns, word games and anagrams. All is, more or less, revealed in the final chapter. Benna is a lonely person, without husband, lover (Gerard is just a friend) or child. She is a widow but her husband had left her, before dying in the car crash. She does meet up with her older brother, Louis, a man as lost as she is, but that does not really help. She wants a lover and she wants a child but she can only find them in her imagination. It is a sad story about one of Moore’s losers (she calls them non-winners) but is cleverly told and full of wit and word play.

Publishing history

First published 1986 by Knopf