Benna Carpenter is an art history professor who wears glass jewelry, sings in local nightclubs, chain-smokes, runs an aerobics class for the elderly, teaches poetry, and has an adorable and devoted six-year-old daughter. Yet Benna is disillusioned, cynical and bitter. With brilliant imagination and wit, this extraordinary novel explores Benna's world of misheard exit lines, love gained and lost truths almost told, and fragile and desperate hope.
Who exactly is Benna, the 33-year-old poetry teacher (or singer? or aerobics instructor?) we meet in this inventive novel? It is hard to say. She hidesfrom us, from herselfbehind imaginary identities, relationships, and scenarios in which elements of character and action are transposed like the letters of those anagrams she scribbles on napkins. Her fantasies are offered as straight narrative along with a stream of wisecracks (``All the world's a stage we're going through''). For deep down, Benna is terrified of the contingencies of reality (``One gust of wind and Santa became Satan''), longs for the very continuity she mocks. This won't be everyone's cup of tea. Still, the virtuosity of Moore's widely praised Self-Help ( LJ 3/15/85) is once again evident, and when she fleetingly reveals the vulnerability beneath the sleight of hand, it is very affecting. Elise Chase, Forbes Lib., Northampton, Mass.