Lorrie Moore, the queen of second person, incisive, witty, precise, intense, and always funny in the saddest possible way.
I’ve been a big fan of Lorrie Moore since my first really great writing workshop during my sophomore year of college, where we read the two Lorrie Moore stories that always make it into every fiction workshop–“How to Become a Writer” and “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)” both from Self Help. Since then, I’ve read Birds of America and Like Life and that volume of Best American Short Stories she edited. But her first (and for many years only) novel, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, just sat on the shelf until now. I don’t know why.
The adolescent friendship between the narrator, Berie, and her closest friend Sils forms the core of the story. The two girls have been friends since grade school, but their relationship begins to change the summer they are fifteen, when beautiful Sils gets a boyfriend, leaving still-immature Berie uncertain and self conscious. The other details of Berie’s life pinwheel around this friendship–her family, distant and dysfunctional, her fraught marriage, her adult self.
Like all Moore’s work, it’s impossible to say enough about the writing–the language is clever, surprising, evocative, concise, and mildly disturbing. More like a short story than a novel Who Will Run the Frog Hospital is a single whole–consistent, absorbing, transitioning gracefully, seamlessly through time and place. It’s a one-sitting book.
Similarly, the classic criticisms of Moore apply to this, as much as to any of her short works. It’s pretentious, no doubt. Berie’s character is pretty much indistinguishable from any one of Moore’s other main characters. And Moore doesn’t shy away from displaying her character’s flaws, which can render them a bit unsympathetic.
But overall, I really enjoyed this book and remain a huge fan.