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Lorrie Moore: Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

Any novel that isn’t a science fiction or horror novel that starts off with In Paris we eat brains every night has to have something going for it and Moore’s second novel is every bit as good as her first. Berie Carr, however, is eating them for a flashback, for something Proustian, while her husband, Daniel, likes them because they are like seafood. Daniel is in Paris for a conference on Tay-Sachs disease, for which both he and Berie carry the gene. Berie is thirty-seven and a photography curator. Her marriage is going nowhere. But we are immediately taken back twenty-five years, when Berie was fifteen and working a summer job as a cashier at a theme park called Storyland, ten miles outside the town of Horsehearts, near the Canadian border. Many of the visitors are from Quebec. She is there with her best friend, Silsby Chaussée, whose job is to impersonate Cinderella. Berie looks up to Silsby, who is pretty, has big breasts and clearly destined for great things, while she, Berie, is ordinary, flat-chested and one of Moore’s non-winners.

But real life has a way of happening. Silsby gets pregnant. Berie manages to steal money from the cash register at Storyland to pay for the abortion but she is caught and sent off to Bible camp by her parents to mend her ways. She will only meet Silsby once more, at a high school reunion which will show how far apart they have come. Silsby does not attend the next reunion and Berie does not attend any of the subsequent ones. The title comes from a painting Silsby has made. The local boys used to like shooting frogs with BB guns and Berie and Silsby try and patch up the frogs. Silsby’s painting – Moore shows us it at the very beginning – is of two girls dressed in Cinderella costumes, looking at patched-up frogs, who have resolutely remained frogs, despite their tender care. And that is what this novel is about. We learn about Randi, who plays Bo-Peep at Storyland and, to quote her, loses her fucking sheep as she will later lose her mind while selling Mary Kay cosmetics. Berie ends up where she was at the beginning, stuck with Daniel, going nowhere. But Moore’s novel, though short, is told with wit and affection for the non-winner.

Publishing history

First published 1994 by Knopf