an•a•gram ( n -gr m ) 1. A word or phrase formed by reordering the letters of another word or phrase, such as satin to stain.
However, here in her first novel, short story writer Lorrie Moore (born 1957), reordered not letters but the different scenes in order for her reader to choose the one that he or she likes best. I have seen this approached in a couple of movies but my first time for a novel. Moore’s contemporary and humorous prose makes this approach not only crisp in its freshness but also memorable because of her believable characters.
There are only 3 main characters: the 32-y/o Benna Carpenter who is a poet, a teacher, a nightclub singer or an aerobics instructor depending on the version of the story that you are reading and/or prefer to take away as your favorite version of the story. Then there is Benna’s friend 31-y/o Eleanor who is either imaginary or real, again depending on which version you want to choose. Lastly, Benna’s love interest, 30-y/o Gerard Maines who is the single or divorced guy who lives next to Benna’s apartment with only a thin wall separating their rooms. In fact, Gerard could hear Benna’s toilet bowl when she is flushing it. Here in the Philippines, we have a term for this: “dingding lang ang pagitan (separated only by a wall) that actually came from a semi-erotic (ST – sex trip) movie in the 80’s.
But Anagrams is not an erotic story. It is a bittersweet love story about people in love and falling out of love. Reading it is like watching a romance-comedy movie set in an American city with characters in their last chances to find life-long partners. I would have given it five stars if I read this maybe a couple of decades ago. However, I was still mesmerized by Moore’s innovative approach even if at times the frequent shifts from 1st person to 3rd person and vice versa confused me. However, her imagination on the different versions is something that is commendable since all of them are not only plausible but also funny, playful and poignant that makes it hard for you to choose which version you want to remember for the rest of your life.
Also, unlike some of the novels of Haruki Murakami, who was also first known to be as a short story writer, Anagrams does not give me you that feeling that you are reading short stories merged into a big story just to make up a novel. Regardless of which version you choose or you want to believe in, everything is still coherent and integrated.
If you enjoy stories about single people looking for partners in their late 20’s of early 30’s, try reading this book. It is a joy to read and you will surely see yourself in one of the versions of the three characters.
I am now looking forward to more Moore books.
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