by Lorrie Moore
I wouldn't call Anagrams a core title on the 1001 Books list, one of the 708 books that have stayed through all editions of the 1001 Books list. The editors of the 1001 Books list would call Anagrams a core title, because it is a core title on the 1001 Books list. Moore is an author who has straddled the line between short stories and novels, balancing both with a career in Academia- thirty years at the University of Wisconsin and now at Vanderbilt University. She is a professional academic, and Anagrams, her first novel, is a prime example of the genre of "professional academic literature." It's a major trend, still on going, and it concerns itself with the lives of professional and would be professional academics, living and working on or near a university campus, and almost all of them white, from a middle or upper class background (though not happy about it) and straight.
Brenna Carpenter, the primary protagonist in Anagrams, shares biographical details with the author- both worked as para-legals in New York, both worked in academia. Moore is a precursor of the manic-pixie dream girl, though one might more appropriately call her a manic-depressive pixie dream girl. She's quirky! She sleeps with students! She invents an imaginary daughter. It's this last detail that, I think, is the crux of Anagrams. The fact that her daughter is imaginary is stated once, baldly, as a fact, then for the rest of the book she might as well be real. After the initial disclosure, Carpenter makes no reference to the fact that her daughter does not exist.
Anagrams hasn't aged particularly well, except as a capsule of that mid 1980's, anti-yuppie, professional-academic sub-culture. Despite the essentially sad subject matter, Moore maintains a light touch that harkens back to her personal history as a prize winner of short story contests from an early age. The short story is really hard done by within the precincts of the 1001 Books list.