Sunday, October 26, 2008

Remembering Adolescence

Lorrie Moore is a writer recommended by Louise Erdrich, and this summer I read her book, Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? The title alone made it worth reading and this short novel has both fans and critics. Berie Car, in the midst of a failing marriage, remembers her best friend Sils, and their last summer together in a small Adirondack tourist town. Life was thrilling, ordinary, sweet and bitter, all experienced in a "bleakly funny state of suspended collapse." As an awkward, skinny, yearning 15 year old, she rejects her family, and idolizes Sils, who is sassy, prettier, and sexually precocious. Berie recalls Sils in a series of flashbacks. They work together in an amusement park, Berie as a cashier, Sils as Cinderella. They are irreverent, wild, curious and rebellious, stealing in to a local bar, sneaking cigarettes. When Sils becomes pregnant, Berie develops a plan to fund the inevitable abortion. But she is caught filching money at the amusement park and is shipped off to a summer camp. We then fast-forward abruptly to her adult life in a failing marriage, and this brief part seems disconnected and unrelated to Berie's adolescent feelings and perceptions.

Moore's writing, and the clarity of Berie's memories, from cottage cheese for breakfast, to the emotional details of Berie's experience of lost innocence is the writer's strength. She uses droll wordplay humorously at times and also evokes genuine sadness. It's a bitter, often funny hymn to lost adolescence and a poignant tale. Moore skillfully illuminates an awareness of how life's significant events can often prove disappointingly anticlimactic. I thought about her memories and perceptions of these events for a long time after reading this book, remembering my own adolescence. As a result, I look forward to reading more of Lorrie Moore's books.

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