As their pilgrimage proceeds toward the dreamed-of-future, the stories of those left behind in Bay City, Wisconsin—told in the voices of Adele’s mother and sister—carry for the reader their own surprises, while they also bear witness to the power of time and endurance, the pull of past and of family.
It is the special quality of Mona Simpson’s novel to give us characters who are at once emblems of American life and totally individual and alive in their moral complexity and emotional range. The Augusts, mother and daughter, are triumphant creations. And Adele, having her final say about “making it,” provides a memorable coda to a book that holds us with its storytelling brilliance, its sharp and profound understanding, its generosity of spirit.
Adele is fleeing small-town boredom and what she believes to be the dead-end lives of her mother and sister. She is pulled west by the desire to find a rich new husband for herself and to make Ann (in Ann’s own words) “a child star while I was still a child.” The Hollywood they seek is the legendary Hollywood of talent scouts and overnight discovery. The California through which they move is a series of apartments never quite furnished, and never quite adequate jobs for Adele: teacher, restaurant hostess, even maid. As Adele continues to pursue her fantasies with an almost demonic energy and ingenuity—constantly outraging Ann’s growing sense of the real—the violence, the love, the subtlety of feeling that bind this mother and daughter are made piercingly clear. Anywhere But Here is a novel that freshly and powerfully reveals—through its portrayal of a mother and daughter bound for California and the Midwestern family left behind—a host of American myths and dreams as they take shape in the present. The eternal trek westward and the yearnings that fuel it—the obsessive desire to rise in the world, the passion to be anywhere but the here we are born to, a belief in the amazing grace conferred by the right possessions—these are the totems embodied in the restless, ambitious Adele August. As the novel opens she is on the road with her 12-year-old daughter Ann, running away to California in her splendid (unpaid-for) white Lincoln Continental.