"Strangers always love my mother," Ann August tells us at the start of Anywhere But Here. "And even if you hate her, can't stand her, even if she's ruining your life, there's something about her, some romance, some power. She's absolutely herself. No matter how hard you try, you'll never get to her. And when she dies, the world will be flat, too simple, reasonable, fair." Indeed, over the course of the dozen or so years chronicled in Mona Simpson's first novel, Ann and everyone else related to the charming, delusional Adele learn this the hard way. Ann does hate her at times; Adele does indeed come pretty close to ruining Ann's life on numerous occasions, or at least scarring it, and yet, ultimately, it isn't possible not to love her. As Ann puts it: "The thing about my mother and me is that when we get along we're just the same."
This is a woman who uproots her child from Wisconsin and moves to Los Angeles, leaving behind a dull husband (not Ann's father--who wandered off long ago but makes appearances here in memories), under the premise that life will be beautiful and Ann will become a famous television star. But her lifelong dream and goal ("It was our secret, a nighttime whispered promise" turns out, like so many things in the Augusts' lives, to be lackluster when it becomes reality. Adele merely feeds on fantasy and drags her daughter along.
Nevertheless, it's hard not to worship her. We hear from her mother, her sister, from Ann, and finally from Adele herself, and no matter how she's used people, what trouble she's gotten into, or what lies she's told--and there are plenty of all three--a certain amount of awe always remains. When we come upon Ann's proclamation that "it's always the people like my mother, who start the noise and bang things, who make you feel the worst; they are the ones who get your love." It's startling to realize how heartily we agree with her. Anywhere But Here gives truth to this statement in a way that few books ever have. It's dense with misery and amazement all tangled together--a realistic and thus rare portrait of love. --Melanie Rehak