Monday, May 29, 2006

Gatsby Passed Up, Like a Punk

I promised that Gatsby was in the on-deck circle, but then I went and picked up another book, which is the problem with trying to predict what one is going to read next. I'm now halfway through (and quite taken with) Lorrie Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? It begins a bit deceptively, with a passage that, while well written, suggests that the novel is going to be about a disgruntled married woman watching her husband eat fancy food in Paris. And it is about her, but it quickly flashes back to her childhood and a particularly intense friendship. So far, it's great. Between this and Birds of America, I think Moore is one of my favorite contemporary American writers. At the risk of unnecessarily emphasizing gender, it's also becoming clear that she's my favorite contemporary female American writer.

Here's a passage from Frog Hospital for you. It's narrated by Berie, the narrator (duh), and it comes when she and her best friend, Sils, are driven home by Sils' new boyfriend, Mike, about whom Berie is less than excited.
Mike pulled down to the end of her street, right up into the entrance to the cemetery, and I got out and waited. I walked away from the car, to let them kiss. I had a lot of patience, I felt, for certain kinds of things. I hopped the low fence and roamed around the edge of the cemetery a little, but when I looked back, they were still in the car, kissing, so I walked farther out. I looked for little Estherina Foster's grave, and then sat there with her in the dark. I listened for a voice that might be hers, some whisper or peep, but there was nothing. I fiddled with a long-stemmed plastic rose that had gotten mashed there in the dirt. I brushed the mud off it, and bounced it around, tracing words in the air -- my name, Sils's name, Estherina's name. I couldn't think of other names. I wrote Happy Birthday, Fuck You, and Peace. Then I tossed the flower away, into the shadows. How silent the world was at night, the unbudded trees etched eerily into the sky, the branches reaching as if for something to hold and eat -- perhaps the dead and candied stars! The ground was cold, thatched with leaves; the nearby swamp had begun unthawing its sewagey smells. In the moonlight the sky seemed wild, bright, and marbled like the sea. People alone, trapped, country people, all looked at the sky, I knew. It was the way out somehow, that sky, but it was also the steady, changeless witness to the after and before of one's decisions -- it witnessed all the deaths that took people away to other worlds -- and so people had a tendency to talk to it. I turned away, sitting there, hugging my legs, pulling my jacket close. I plucked my earrings off and stuck them in my pocket, the cool air strangely still and mushroomy. I wondered whether I would ever be in love with a boy. Would I? Why not? Why not? Right then and there I vowed and dared and bet that sky and the trees -- I swore on Estherina Foster's grave -- that I would. But it wouldn't be a boy like Mike. Nobody like that. It would be a boy very far away -- and I would go there someday and find him. He would just be there. And I would love him. And he would love me. And we would simply be there together, loving like that, in that place, wherever it was. I had a whole life ahead. I had patience and faith and a headful of songs.



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