This is a step away from Moore’s fantastic short stories, but many of the elements are recognisable. When I first discovered Lorrie Moore she took my breath away – I read her obsessively in my lunch break, in the midst of the Seven Dials in Covent Garden, feeling strangely alienated from the bustle of the crowds. Everything around me took on more meaning, yet at the same time seemed strangely devoid of any meaning at all. Such is the power of her world.
Who Will Run The Frog Hospital follows the lives of two women, Berie and Sils, tracking them from their teenage years at the Storyland amusement park (Sils dressed up as Cinderella and smoked cigarettes with Bo Peep) all the way to Berie’s visit to Paris with her husband. Moore’s real talent, I think, comes in the form of her language – she puts words together that I would never have thought of but which work with such elegance and ugliness at the same time that when you read them, they seem like the most original pairings ever written (which one could argue, they might be. As a true Moore fan, I believe that really could be true). We travel with Belie from New York to Paris, where she and her husband Daniel eat “brains every night” and the other women have “a great, nearsighted,chomping faith in their own beauty that makes them perhaps seem prettier than they really are.” (Chomping! Faith should chomp, shouldn’t it. That’s Moore).
Daniel, it turns out, is perhaps not the perfect man (if such a thing exists) – there are numerous small references to the adult Berie’s bad hip and we learn that he pushed her down the stairs once during an argument. The Divorce pastries in the French patisseries are Belie’s favourite. Half coffee, half chocolate.
At the heart of this story is friendship – the relationship of two girls as they flounder through life, and while Berie’s marriage also comes under the microscope the enduring memory of this book will be the bond between the women. At one point in the novel, Sils becomes pregnant (“the beginning little tinker toys of a kid”) and Berie steals enough cash from the Storyland register to help her out. The love is almost unquestioned, so inherent is it in one teenage girl turning to another. As adulthood takes over and the girls drift apart, Berie spends her life hoping to recreate the closeness of those two teenagers who smoked in secret when they should have been entertaining the public, dressed up as Disney characters.
The air of the book is at times very nostalgic – Berie is remembering her past for great chunks of it, but it is by no means slow. Rather, it pulls you in and quite simply delights – the author’s talent is so great that you become absorbed into the weird, at times mundane, world of the characters and the language without a second thought. Moore has by critics often been described as funny, but actually I have never found that to be quite true – she is melancholy, dry, original, observant. Don’t be surprised if you find her phrases popping into your head at strange times – she has that effect. Read this book if you want to be excited by a voice, if you want to fall in love with language, if you want to be enchanted by words. You know what? Just read it. (It’s short!)