Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

In WHO WILL RUN THE FROG HOSPITAL?, Lorrie Moore combines a verbally playful, punning narrator, Berie Carr, with a bittersweet story of loss and gentle despair. The uproarious humor in the novel is balanced nicely with deep feeling and an unblinking look at the emotional poverty of some adult lives. The narrator moves from her current life—on vacation in Paris with her husband, a medical researcher—to memories of her adolescence; her best friend, Sils; and her hometown of Horsehearts, New York.

Berie Carr works in the Historical Society as a photography curator and in most of this novel she serves as a curator of her own past, bringing back the world of adolescence, that time before longing and anticipation and hope were replaced with the plain facts of adulthood. She recalls in detail the summer of 1972 when, at age fifteen, she worked as an entrance cashier in an amusement park called Storyland with Sils. Berie and Sils enjoy a special bond of adolescent friendship—working, smoking, cursing, drinking and dancing together. When Sils, who is physically more mature than Berie, and more attractive to the town’s boys, becomes pregnant, Berie finds the solution to Sils’s problem: She will steal from her cash register and provide Sils with the money for an abortion in Vermont.

The plan goes off without a hitch, until Berie decides to continue stealing even after the abortion. When she is finally caught, her parents react quickly: Berie is sent away from the bad influence of Sils to a camp for the remainder of the summer and then, in the fall, to a boarding school. Berie and Sils hardly see each other any longer, and each one begins her journey from man to man, from the passion of adolescence to the banality of adulthood. Berie goes away to college and finally moves from Horsehearts. Sils remains behind, however, and they are reunited for the last time at their ten-year high school reunion.

Moore’s comic genius and deft handling of the shifts between the cultures of the 1990’s and the 1970’s, between adulthood and adolescence, make this novel a memorable, moving, and remarkable work.