Scenario 1: Benna Carpenter is a nightclub crooner adored by Gerard, who instructs preschoolers in aerobics.
Scenario 2: Benna teaches fitness to the elderly while Gerard writes rock operas based on Purcell.
Scenario 3: Gerard is a lounge-lizard pianist engaged to Benna but ready to ditch her for law school.
Most of the novel is scenario 4: the 33-year-old Benna as widow, single-mother, and poetry instructor at Fitchville Community College with Gerard (the obscure object of her desire) singing for nickels at a local Holiday Inn. Benna (her father wanted a boy, Benjamin) is a chatty daydreamer who acts like an after-hours Lucille Ball. Her quirky daughter Georgianne Michelle (George) helps tether her — but who’s to say Benna isn’t imaging George?
Moore’s first book is a bleakly funny dip into solitiude, insecurity, and the ephemera called reality. It compresses yearning into a small place and milks irony from unchanging sadness. Decades “are imperfect anagrams of one another.” When George mishears Bob Dylan (“The ants are my friends. They’re blowing in the wind.”) Benna seeks solace in puns: “Where are the negligées downtown?”; “I am a wok, I am an island.” But Moore never mocks her heroine. Benna is fragile (she is “the darkness, the slump”) — “One gust of wind and Santa became Satan.” Her “lozenge of pretend” shields but offers no cure.
Only lovemaking fills the void: “We are gasping, quiet, in the dark, and then the wash of violet and night tornadoes through my legs and up behind my eyes, plumbs and spirals my spine, and I know if I can keep feeling like this I’ll be okay, if I can feel like this I’m not dead, I won’t die. Life is sad. Here is someone.” Alas, he doesn’t last.