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Anywhere but Here [Paperback]

Mona Simpson
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
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Product Description

From Amazon

"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

From Publishers Weekly

Ann, the narrator of this engaging look at mother-daughter relationships, is uprooted from Bay City, Wis., by her mother, Adele, so that she can become a child star in Los Angeles. PW praised Simpson for her "grasp of human relationships and sheer readability."
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Simpson's first novel opens with its two heroines, Adele and her daughter Ann, fleeing their provincial hometown in Wisconsin for a fresh start in California. The story of their journey and new life is fast-paced and entertaining, but it is Simpson's fine characterizations that are most impressive. Adele is both protector and manipulator, encouraging Ann's success as a child star but also displaying her own unrealistic expectations and selfish motives. Ann tolerates her mother's lying and eccentricity, but she longs for a rootedness her mother cannot give her. The skillfully written flashbacks to stories told by Adele's Wisconsin relatives give us a sense of the home they have left behind, and the disparity between it and their new home is immense and profound. This is an excellent novel. Lucinda Ann Peck, Learning Design Associates, Gahanna, Ohio
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"'An amazing novel. Mona Simpson joins those female literary stars - Colette, Willa Cather - whose voices are uniquely recognizable, always their own' Vogue; 'Original and profound' Independent; 'Full of remarkable observations of people... the most commonplace events are recreated in an utterly compelling way' Times Literary Supplement; 'Stunning... Simpson takes on - and reinvents - many of America's essential myths' Michiko Kakutani, New York Times; 'Anywhere But Here is a wonder: big, complex, masterfully written, it's an achievement that lands Simpson in the front ranks of our best novelists' Newsweek" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Mona Simpson is the recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award, a Guggenheim Grant and the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. She is the author of the acclaimed novels Anywhere But Here, The Lost Father, A Regular Guy, Off Keck Road and My Hollywood. She lives in Santa Monica, California with her husband and their two children. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

We fought.  When my mother and I crossed state lines in the car, I'd sit against the window and wouldn't talk. I wouldn't even look at her. The fights came when I thought she broke a promise. She said there'd be an Indian reservation. She said that we'd see buffalo in Texas. My mother said a lot of things. We were driving from Bay City, Wisconsin, to California, so I could be a child star while I was still a child.

"Talk to me," my mother would say. "If you're upset, tell me."

But I wouldn't. I knew how to make her suffer. I was mad. I was mad about a lot of things. Places she said would be there, weren't. We were running away from family. We'd left home.

Then my mother would pull to the side of the road and reach over and open my door.

"Get out, then," she'd say, pushing me.

I got out. It was always a shock the first minute because nothing outside was bad. The fields were bright. It never happened on a bad day. The western sky went on forever, there were a few clouds. A warm breeze came up and tangled around my legs. The road was dull as a nickel. I stood there at first amazed that there was nothing horrible in the landscape.

But then the wheels of the familiar white Continental turned, a spit of gravel hit my shoes and my mother's car drove away. When it was nothing but a dot in the distance, I started to cry.

I lost time then; I don't know if it was minutes or if it was more. There was nothing to think because there was nothing to do. First, I saw small things. The blades of grass. Their rough side, their smooth, waxy side. Brown grasshoppers. A dazzle of California  poppies.

I'd look at everything around me. In yellow fields, the tops of weeds bent under visible waves of wind. There was a high steady note of insects screaking. A rich odor of hay mixed with the heady smell of gasoline. Two or three times, a car rumbled by, shaking the ground. Dry weeds by the side of the road seemed almost transparent in the even sun.

I tried hard but I couldn't learn anything. The scenery all went strange, like a picture on a high billboard. The fields, the clouds, the sky; none of it helped because it had nothing to do with me.

My mother must have watched in her rearview mirror. My arms crossed over my chest, I would have looked smaller and more solid in the distance. That was what she couldn't stand, my stub-bornness. She'd had a stubborn husband. She wasn't going to have a stubborn child. But when she couldn't see me anymore, she gave up and turned around and she'd gasp with relief when I was in front of her again, standing open-handed by the side of the road, nothing more than a child, her child.

And by the time I saw her car coming back, I'd be covered with a net of tears, my nose running. I stood there with my hands hanging at my sides, not even trying to wipe my face.

My mother would slow down and open my door and I'd run in, looking back once in a quick good-bye to the fields, which turned ordinary and pretty again. And when I slid into the car, I was different. I put my feet up on the dashboard and tapped the round tips of my sneakers together. I wore boys' sneakers she thought I was too old for. But now my mother was nice because she knew I would talk to her.

"Are you hungry?" was the first thing she'd say.

"A little."

"I am," she'd say. "I feel like an ice cream cone. Keep your eyes open for a Howard Johnson's."

We always read the magazines, so we knew where we wanted to go. My mother had read about Scottsdale and Albuquerque and Bel Air. But for miles, there was absolutely nothing. It seemed we didn't have anything and even air that came in the windows when we were driving fast felt hot.

We had taken Ted's Mobil credit card and we used it whenever we could. We scouted for Mobil stations and filled up the tank when we found one, also charging Cokes on the bill. We dug to our elbows in the ice chests, bringing the cold pop bottles up like a catch. There was one chain of motels that accepted Mobil cards. Most nights we stayed in those, sometimes driving three or four hours longer to find one, or stopping early if one was there. They were called Travel Lodges and their signs each outlined a bear in a nightcap, sleepwalking. They were dull motels, lonely, and they were pretty cheap, which bothered my mother because she would have liked to charge high bills to Ted. I think she enjoyed signing Mrs. Ted Diamond. We passed Best Westerns with hotel swim-ming pools and restaurants with country singers and we both wished and wished Ted had a different card.

Travel Lodges were the kind of motels that were set a little off the highway in a field. They tended to be one or at the most two stories, with cement squares outside your room door for old empty metal chairs. At one end there would be a lit coffee shop and a couple of semis parked on the gravel. The office would be near the coffee shop. It would have shag carpeting and office furniture, always a TV attached by metal bars to the ceiling.

Those motels depressed us. After we settled in the room, my mother looked around, checking for cleanliness. She took the bedspreads down, lifted curtains, opened drawers and the medi-cine cabinet, and looked into the shower. Sometimes she took the paper off a water glass and held the glass up to see that it was washed.

I always wanted to go outside. My mother would be deliberating whether it was safer to leave our suitcase in the room or in the locked car; when she was thinking, she stood in the middle of the floor with her hands on her hips and her lips pursed. Finally, she decided to bring it in. Then she would take a shower to cool off. She didn't make me take one if I didn't want to, because we were nowhere and she didn't care what I looked like in the coffee shop. After her shower, she put on the same clothes she'd been driving in all day.

I went out to our porch and sat in the one metal chair. Its back was a rounded piece, perhaps once designed to look like a shell. I could hear her shower water behind me, running; in front, the constant serious sound of the highway. A warm wind slapped my skin lightly, teasing, the sound of the trucks on the highway came loud, then softer, occasionally a motorcycle shrank to the size of a bug, red taillights ticking on the blue sky.

I acted like a kid, always expecting to find something. At home, before supper, I'd stood outside when the sky looked huge and even the near neighbors seemed odd and distant in their oc-cupations. I'd watched the cars moving on the road, as if by just watching you could understand, get something out of the world.

At the motel, I would walk around to the back. I'd stand look-ing at the field, like any field. The back of the building was or-dinary, brick, with glass meter gauges. There was a gas tank lodged on a cement platform, pooled with rusty water. The field went on to where you could see trailers and a neon sign for Dairy Queen in the distance.

The near and the far, could have been anywhere, could have been our gas tank, our fields and sky at home. Our yard had the same kinds of weeds. Home could have been anywhere too.

"Ann. A-yun," my mother would be yelling, then. It all ended, gladly, when she called me from the door. She was finished with her shower and wanted to go for supper at the coffee shop. Our day was almost done. And we enjoyed the dinners in those coffee shops. We ordered the most expensive thing on the menu and side dishes and beverages and desserts. We were anxious, trying to plan to get all the best of what they had. We rolled up our sleeves, asked for extra sour cream and butter. We took pleasure in the scrawled figures added up on the green-lined bill.

Mornings, we always started out later than we'd planned. The manager ran the credit card through the machine and filled the form out slowly. My mother drummed her nails on the counter top, waiting. Then she sighed, holding the credit card form in
both hands, examining it a second before signing. "Okay," she said every time she handed the paper back, as if she were giving away one more thing she'd once had.

We'd drive off in the morning and I'd look again, at the plain building, the regular field. I'd forget the land. It was like so much other land we'd seen.

My mother had clipped out pictures of houses in Scottsdale, Ari-zona. We loved the colors: pink, turquoise, browns, rich yellow. The insides of the houses had red tiled floors, clay bowls of huge strawberries on plain, rough wooden tables.

We went out of our way to go to Scottsdale. When we got there, my mother drove to the Luau, a good hotel, one they'd listed in Town and Country. I sat in a chair on one side of the lobby while she went up to the desk. She came back and whispered me the price.

"What do you think? It's a lot but maybe it's worth it once to just relax."

"I think we should find somewhere cheaper."

"There might not be a Travel Lodge in town," she said. "Well, think, Pooh-bear-cub. It's up to you. What would you like to do?"
"Let's find out if there's a Travel Lodge."

She sighed. "Okay. I don't know how we're going to find out. There's probably not. In fact, I'm pretty sure. So what do you think? What should we do?"

I worried about money. And I knew it was a bigger system than I understood. I tried to pick the cheaper thing, like a superstition.

"There's a telephone. Maybe they have a phone book." We were standing in the dark Polynesian lobby. A phone hung in the corner.

She did the looking and it was there, Travel Lodge, with a boxed ad showing the bear sleepwalking, in the yellow pages, listed as being on Route 9. "Nine where?" my mother said, biting her fingernail, clicking the other hand on the metal shelf. "Now, how the heck am I going to find that? It says right out of town, yeah, I'll bet. I didn't...
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