Customer Reviews: Anywhere but Here (Vintage Contemporaries)
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on November 26, 2001
I was fascinated by this book, but it's not for everybody. Anywhere But Here is a meandering portrait of a family, told from the point of view of three generations of women, with most of the text from the point of view of the youngest, Ann. It is a mosaic of her memories as a child and young adult, caught up in the vortex of her mother's desperate attempts to live the life she dreams of.
I was delighted by her ability to evoke the point of view of a child; I'd often have to pause as some long-forgotten memory came rushing back, triggered by an especially perceptive phrase. She conveys brilliantly the way that adults seem simulatneously completely familiar and entirely alien. For days after reading this, I saw everything in my life through that strange double vision wherein the viewpoint of the book is superimposed on my own.
So basically, I loved it. That said, you might not, especially if you own Precious Moments figurines, believe children are innocents, think that God is looking out for you, or are uncomfortable naked, even when alone. This book is immensely honest, and those who prefer to maintain their illusions should avoid it. Also avoid it if you need action; this book is about human lives, which don't have plots.
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on November 1, 1999
There's something very American about this novel. A lot of people probably thought there wasn't much to it, but really when you look at the daily ordinary occurances and tragedies of our lives, they don't always seem so profound. It's when you view them as a sum of their parts that you see the meaning. I've never read a book that painted a life, several lives, so vividly and realistically. I believe in Ann and Adele. The ending is perfect. Adele loved Ann the best that she could, and it was a reckless, selfish, hurtful love, but it was love. Call me crazy but there's something sort of beautiful about that.
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on December 2, 2003
I originally picked up this book after hearing it compared to Danzy Senna's superb novel "Caucasia," and found "Anywhere But Here" a huge disappointment. I agree with other reviewers who feel the book should have undergone a massive edit/rewrite before publication. There is some good beginning stuff here; some good raw material and ideas...BUT. "Anywhere But Here" lacks a cohesive plot and the characters are flat and dry. Ann, the daughter -- who narrates the bulk of the book -- is particularly dull and uninteresting. No causes, consequences, or conclusions arise from any of the anecdotes she tells. Instead they read as nothing more than a grocery list of facts: "We sat in the car." "I got a role on a TV show." "I took naked pictures of my classmates." The reader leaves this book hungry, disturbed...and bored. I kept waiting for it to get better, and for something to HAPPEN, but alas, nothing ever did. For a truly great read and an examination of a strange-tense-intriguing mother-daughter relationship, skip this one and try "Caucasia" instead.
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on August 12, 1998
Mona Simpson is America's best hidden literary gem. While she doesn't do herself any favors by allowing such a long time to lapse between her novels, the depth of her work is memorable. Anywhere But Here is a mirror of contemporary American life. Her characters are realistic, strong, and independent, yet are limited by their shortcomings and the strictures of familial obligation. Simpson's greatest skill is her mastery of dialogue. In this novel, her characters reveal so much about themselves through their words, and more through their acts and omissions. A fine read.
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on June 29, 1998
I have read every novel of Mona Simpson's with great enjoyment. This one is the best of them all. The Lost Father was an enjoyable read, but it did not grab me. Mona Simpson's descriptions of small town Wisconsin are poetic. I felt and understood the character's urges and feelings. A excellent plane book. I read this on the way to Japan and back. The time went very quickly, with such an absorbing story.
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VINE VOICEon November 29, 2010
Had never read Mona Simpson before reading the wonderful "My Hollywood". I wanted to try another right away and ordered "Anywhere But Here". I can't believe that I missed it when it was new. I have been reading voraciously for many years and this one will have to be worked into my top 5 or 6 of all time favorites. This is what literary fiction is all about. The story of Anne and Adelle is profound. Adelle is unstable...narcissistic and abusive...but she does indeed love her daughter. Many reviewers here comment on Anne's blank personality. This so shows the skill of the author. Adelle is so dysfunctional she clearly sucks all of the oxygen out of every space occupied....clearly Anne's lack of emoting is symptomatic of being abused. She acts out in bouncing off of her mothers illness....but in an understated way that has the reader questioning what just happened. Simpson shows you what is happening instead of telling you. She then gives you family history through other family member's voices.This becomes a finely woven tapestry of a book. Life is not always pretty...not clearly black or white. People and situations are nuanced...and I have seldom seen an author bring it all together as elegantly as this. I understand that there is a sequel. I am off to order it now along with "Off Keck Road". I just finished "Anywhere But Here" a few hours ago....already miss Adelle,Anne and Carol. This will be with me for a long long time.
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This is a wonderful novel. It is about the relationship between a mother and daughter -Adele and Ann. They journey together to California, to a life Adele is seeking but can never attain. She can never attain what she is seeking partly because she is unable to accept what she has, partly due to not recognizing what it is she is and is seeking, and partly due to her crazy longing for a self and way of life that is not embedded in reality.

Adele is crazy, cruel, self-centered , almost sociopathic, yet she has a uniqueness and childlike quality that is almost endearing. ann has her mother's tendencies, but at the same time, the ability to recognize this and want to change herself and escape from her demons while there is still time. The reader views the gradual and almost total disintegration of the last vestiges of Adele's stability.

Adele takes Ann to California so that Ann can become a child star and yet, when Ann actually is able to make it, Adele tries to destroy this possibility. We watch Adele's zany and crazy actions - letting Ann off in the middle of highways, becoming obsessed with her psychiatrist (pretending he's marrying her), her lies, her cheating, and her deceit.

There is a telling paragraph - just a few lines - that let us know how Adele had Ann pose for pornographic photos when she was a young child. However, it's a short paragraph, of no tremendous significance in light of the reality of Adele and Ann's relationship. Taken alone, it might be abhorrent. In context, it's merely sad. Their relationship is cemented. Despite love, hate, anger, and all the other emotions that come into play, the reality is their eternal bond - the arc of continuity even in separation and isolation.

The enduring quality of love and the cement of family and relationships is the zeitgeist of this book. And it is a wonderful book indeed. Simpson can describe the ordinary in a visually poetic and profound way. Her imagery is new and jolts the reader with its visual beauty and power.
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on April 4, 2000
Anywhere But Here is a wonderfully detailed book, providing the reader with many funny or touching anecdotes from the perspectives of various family members. The primary voice is that of Ann, a young girl attempting to deal with her eccentric, irresponsible mother. At times, it gets confusing, since a great deal of Ann's story is not exactly told in order; it's almost as if she rambles on about whatever is currently happening to her, and each current event triggers past memories, which she then talks about as well. Some people may find it irritating or boring to have all the "excess" but I personally enjoyed it. In real life, people often talk and think like Ann, especially during adolescence, so it's quite believable. I also enjoyed the "extra details", since I often walk away from movies or books wishing fervently for more information about the characters. When a person is well-characterized, you get attached to them, and you therefore want to know how they end up, why they became the way they are, etc. This book will definitely not leave you hanging!
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on April 21, 2012
My reaction to this Bildungsroman echoes the love-hate relationship between Ann and her mother- at times you're embarrassed for her and want to stop, but you're also drawn to her and escape is impossible. Almost Dickensian- each abuse nestled casually among the commonplace boredom of childhood, except here the adults are also battered. You feel sorry and ashamed for the mom but you also know you're stuck with her, and she is charming in some ways, and her insecurities are so embarrassing because you can relate to her desire to fit in.

Simpson's a master of language and imagery, the little details, a whole history wrought by a few words, but this is more of series of memories than a novel because Simpson isn't over this- the feelings are still completely raw, which can make for good writing in some places but makes the book feel stagnant because it doesn't go anywhere: the mom never changes, no one changes. Ann's voice is the same from age 4 to 17, and her mother is consistently crazy. This stagnation tells me more than anything that this book is very autobiographical- no storyteller would invent a story where nothing changes. Understanding isn't change: no matter how much she gets inside Adele's skin, they're both still trying to get away.

This stagnation is actually something I think they fixed in the movie by using the cop as a device, making it seem like Adele matured and was selfless in selling the car and Ann matured and accepted her mother more and got into a good school. The screenwriter took the best parts of the book while also creating an actual story arc, which the 'novel' lacks, because real life is rarely structured into a nice arc, instead stagnating and bumping along in weird ways.

I hope part 2 of this story is happy. I hope Adele finds the acceptance and recognition she craves and has a relationship where she and her partner take care of each other. Ann's problem seems harder but I hope she finds happiness.
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on July 12, 2002
I found this to be one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read...Being a kid myself, I found it easy to relate to one of the main characters, Ann August. Throughout the book, the author allows us to see so many perspectives, including: Ann, her aunt Carol, her grandmother Lillian, and even her mother. They all have very different opinions about the nature of others' behaviors, but it is hard not to have an understanding for each and every one of them....whether they include true honesty, hard work, sacrifice, innocence, lying, or even cheating. These are very human characteristics and the Mona Simpson tries show us the hero in everyone. I was sad to finish this book because by the end of it, I felt I had become a part of Ann and Adele's very complicated lives, and even grown to respect everything they had done and gone through...
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