19 January 2017

Review: Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I believe there are two types of people in the world: those for whom the past is like a well remembered movie and the present is all that is real; and those, like me, for whom the past is all that is real and the present is a loosely worn garment soon to be changed for another. That is a perspective I seem to share with Berie, the protagonist of this book. And perhaps that is part of why I like it so much. But that is not all.

Lorrie Moore's prose is fluid, poignant, and funny. More than once she made me laugh out loud, or pause to relish some marvelous description. She will at times suddenly disarm you, leading you somewhere soft and lyrical, only to stop you in your tracks with a surprising turn of phrase.

Passing cafés and restaurants, I walk through the bright glance of men in love, who, looking briefly away from the lover across from them in order to more perfectly form a sentence, unwittingly cast their gaze across my path like a light. And so, momentarily, to have accidentally caught their desire, swimming across the current of it like that, passing through, I feel loved, in a warm and random way, as if it were a rainbow, that old trick of light, or a place in a pool where someone has peed. There is a sweet, silent rot to it.

Wait. What? Everything was going, dare I say, swimmingly there. At first perhaps I thought the man's momentary gaze was going to be subverted because he would be distracted from his love, have his head turned by a pretty face -- how like a man, eh? -- but to her credit Moore did not shoot for the easy target. And with that menace safely past I was settling in to this rather nice description. For an instant "rainbow" made me cock an eyebrow, which lowered again with "that old trick of the light," but then before I could fully relax again I encountered the pee in the pool.

That stopped me dead. It seemed so out of harmony with everything that went before. But it was no mere gaffe, no sudden loss of touch. The current of love she swims through is a love felt for someone else by someone else. Her own husband does not love her and she knows it. So the love she feels for an instant is false, not for her, a trick of the light, a warmth that can only remind her of all that is rotten in her own life.

But Lorrie Moore's prose is also economical. The amount of story she packs into 125 pages without ever once seeming to rush or cram is astonishing. And after my remarks critical of first person narration in my review of The Goldfinch I feel it is only fair to say that here the choice of the first person is entirely successful.

Nicely done all around. A very good read.

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