Friday, August 1, 2008

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

By Lorrie Moore
Knopf Publishing Group
Reviewed by Jodie

How often have you been charmed into reading a book devoid of style and content by an obscure title? Like provocative or quirky cover art titles like ‘Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?’ seem to scream at you to run away. A book cannot possibly live up to the promise of such an oddball title. Again and again I am unable to avoid the lure of a weird title and this has resulted in some pretty disappointing purchases, but sometimes the fantastical words fulfill their purpose and signal the arrival of a wonderful reading experience.

Lorrie Moore’s ‘Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?’ is a sumptuous retelling of growing up in small town America, loose and without parental supervision. The reader first meets the narrator in Paris with a marriage she is not sure she wants to salvage. The trip has become a monotony of the same meals as well as a desperate attempt to forge a shared experience of the city. The narrator, Benoitte-Marie beginnings to slip into reminisces of her childhood when she and her best friend Sils worked small time jobs at the town’s kiddie amusement park ‘Storyville’. The teenage girls make glorious company for the reader. They sneak out to drink in bars, create the kind of improvised outfits only teenagers can and smoke with an unashamed love that makes it seem oh so attractive. They are bonded together by a singularly intense friendship which has resulted from being all each other has. Everything they feel has an intensity that makes them perfect companions for any reader feeling disillusioned with the world.

Of course the girls are selfish and focused solely on themselves, even within their friendship. Benoitte-Marie ignores her less exciting foster sister for Sils and Sils avoids involving her boyfriend Mike during a momentous episode in both their lives. During the biggest crisis in the book Benoitte-Marie both supports Sils in a heroic fashion but then abandons her at a crucial point, as it seems unimportant and dull to her to wait for Sils. The characters justify these actions and the reader allows them to, swept away by the breathless descriptions of their lives.

Moore’s prose is presented in a devastatingly simple mixture of linear narrative and stream of consciousness. When I picked it up to refresh my memory for this review, a month after finishing it, I immediately wanted to read the whole book again. From the first sentence ‘In Paris we eat brains every night.’ the reader is engaged by the absurd yet honest way in which Benoitte-Marie presents herself. She takes small facts, like what they eat for dinner in Paris and makes them of the greatest significance. As she is unable to achieve the same level of honesty with her husband the reader feels they have been taken into her confidence and come to love her more despite her selfish traits.

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