1001 Book Review: Anagrams by Lorrie Moore
Anagrams by Lorrie Moore
First Published: 1985
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by: Jen
Find it/Buy it here:Anagrams (Vintage Contemporaries)
Do you ever wonder how your life and all your relationships could be different by shifting small details around? If so, you might just enjoy Lorrie Moore’s Anagrams.
Until this book, I had never read anything by Moore. Perhaps this is because I generally don’t like short stories. I often feel unsatisfied by short stories. As I have mentioned before, I like to get to know my characters and spend time with them before they disappear and new ones take their place. I guess this was a good book for me since it is a short story collection that follows the same characters throughout the course of the whole book. It has much less of a short story feel than do traditional collections.
Anagrams is a clever concept for a book. The novel is comprised of 5 short stories that are structured like anagrams. Each chapter represents one version of a relationship between the protagonist and her friend. Benna, the protagonist is a lounge singer, aerobics instructor, and teacher in the various iterations of her life told in these stories. In each chapter, Moore shuffles roles, facts, and events in such a way that the reader is left wondering which event represents reality and which pieces are fiction.
I’m a self-admitted book snob. I usually (but not always) dislike commercial fiction and I’ve never found a chick-lit book that I can tolerate. Reading about contemporary women in books that emphasize shopping, dating, and eating ice cream to drown sorrows makes me want to stick a poker in my eyes. In some ways, the tone of this book resembles commercial chick-lit books and I had poker in hand, but, then things changed. Anagrams is most definitely not Chick-lit. For one thing, there’s more attention placed on writing and structure than you’ll find in commercial chick-lit genre, and it’s not simply about dating and shopping but rather is a more complex analysis of contemporary relationships and love.
While I found Benna, the protagonist, to be annoyingly whiny at times, I also found moments of humor and emotional tenderness. In one version, Benna is a professor at a community college and her observations of the teaching process and her students hit close to home in an humorous way. Anagrams is a book that seems directed toward women, and particularly women in their 30s (like me). The flawed Benna is searching for meaning and a sense of identity and I really felt for her as she struggled to find these things. The book covers themes of loneliness, love, social connectedness, and existential search for meaning.
Finally, while I really liked the concept of anagrams as a way to structure the book, I’m not sure the author pulled it off in an entirely effective way. The first 4 versions/chapters were relatively short and got lost when the final chapter seemed to take over. Maybe the point was to emphasize how the final version was the “real” version of Benna’s life while the others were just alternate realities. Chapter 1 was told from a different point of view and seemed somewhat out of place from the rest of the chapters.
Overall, I found it a humorous read that packed a real emotional punch. The last chapter was by far the best chapter and I had to push through the chick-lit tone of the first chapters before I was able to enjoy the book. I will say that this book will be more enjoyable to women. Although the themes in the book are ones that will be interesting to both male and female readers, the tone and style of this book will be more appealing to women. I read this book as part of a group challenge and the male reader in our group hated it.
Have you read this book, or any others by Moore? What do you think about her works? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Want to try it for yourself? Find it here: Anagrams (Vintage Contemporaries)