Anywhere but Here

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Overview

Anywhere But Here is a moving, often comic portrait of wise child Ann August and her mother, Adele, a larger-than-life American dreamer. As they travel through the landscape of their often conflicting ambitions, Ann and Adele bring to life a novel that is a brilliant exploration of the perennial urge to keep moving, even at the risk of profound disorientation. Simpson's first novel is ultimately a heart-rendering tale of a mother and daughter's...
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Overview

Anywhere But Here is a moving, often comic portrait of wise child Ann August and her mother, Adele, a larger-than-life American dreamer. As they travel through the landscape of their often conflicting ambitions, Ann and Adele bring to life a novel that is a brilliant exploration of the perennial urge to keep moving, even at the risk of profound disorientation. Simpson's first novel is ultimately a heart-rendering tale of a mother and daughter's invaluable relationship.

"The two women in this book are American originals. Ann is a new Huck Finn, a tough, funny, resourceful love of a girl. Adele is like no one I've encountered, at once deplorable and admirable—and altogether believable."
—Walker Percy

"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
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Editorial Reviews

Newsweek
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.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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.'' (January)
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455892037
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 10/16/2012
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Mona Simpson
Mona Simpson

Mona Simpson is the author of Anywhere But Here, The Lost Father, A Regular Guy, and Off Keck Road, which was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and won the Heartland Prize of the Chicago Tribune. She has received a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim grant, a Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, and, recently, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Santa Monica, California.

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Read an Excerpt


The thing about my mother and me is that when we get along, we're just the same. Exactly. And at the Luau Hotel, we were happy. Waiting for our car to be fixed, we didn't talk about money. It was so big, we didn't think about it. We lay on our stomachs on the king-sized bed, our calves tangling up behind us, readingnovels. I read Gone With the Wind. Near the end, I locked myself in the bathroom, stopping up my face with a towel. After a while she knocked on the door.

"Honey, let me in, I want to tell you something!" I made myself keep absolutely still. "Don't worry, Honey, she gets him back later. She gets him again in the end."

We loved the swimming pool. Those days we were waiting for our car to be fixed, we lay out from ten until two, because my mother had read that those were the best tanning hours. That was what we liked doing, improving ourselves: lying sprawled out on the reclining chairs, rubbed with coconut suntan oil, turning the pages of new-bought magazines. Then we'd go in the pool, me cannonballing off the diving board for the shock of it, my mother starting in one corner of the shallow end, both her arms out to the sides, skimming the surface as she stepped in gradually, smiling wide, saying, "Eeeeeeeee."

My mother wore a white suit, I swam in gym shorts. While I was lying on a chair, once, she picked up my foot and looked down my leg. "Apricot," she said.

At home, one farmer put in a swimming pool, fenced all around with aluminum. That summer, Ben and I sat in the fields outside, watching through the diamond spaces of the fence. Sometimes the son would try and chase us away and throw rocks at us, little sissy pieces ofgravel.

"Public property!" we screamed back at him. We were sitting in Guns Field. We kids all knew just who owned what land.

Every afternoon, late, after the prime tanning hours, we went out. Dressing took a long time. My mother called room service for a pitcher of fresh lemonade, told them not too much sugar, but some sugar, like yesterday, a pinch, just enough so it was sweet. Sweet, but a little tart, too. Come to think of it, yesterday tasted a little too tart, but the day before was perfect. This was all on the tele-phone. My mother was the kind of customer a waitress would like to kill.

We'd each take showers and wash our hair, squeezing lemons on it before the cream rinse. We touched up our fingernails and toenails with polish. That was only the beginning. Then came the body cream and face cream, our curlers and hair sprays and makeup.

All along, I had a feeling we couldn't afford this and that it would be unimaginably bad when we had to pay. I don't know what I envisioned: nothing, no luck, losing everything, so it was the absolute worst, no money for food, being stopped on a plain cement floor in the sun, unable to move, winding down, stopping like a clock stopped.

But then it went away again. In our sleeveless summer dresses and white patent leather thongs, we walked to the district of small, expensive shops. There was an exotic pet store we visited every day. We'd been first drawn in by a sign on the window for two defumed skunks.

"But you can never really get the smell completely out," the blond man inside had told us. He showed us a baby raccoon and we watched it lick its paws, with movements like a cat but more delicate, intricate features.

More than anything, I wanted that raccoon. And my mother wasn't saying no. We didn't have to make any decisions until we left the Luau. And we didn't know yet when that would be.

In a china store, my mother held up a plain white plate. "Look at this. See how fine it is?" If she hadn't said that, I wouldn't have noticed anything, but now I saw that it was thin and there was a pearliness, like a film of water, over the surface.

"Granny had a whole set like this." She turned the plate upside down and read the fine printing. "Yup, this is it. Spode."

I remembered Granny almost bald, carrying oats and water across the yard to feed Hal's pony. But still, I didn't know.

"Mmhmm. You don't know, but Granny was very elegant. Gramma isn't, she could be, but she isn't. We're like Granny. See, we belong here, Pooh-bear-cub. We come from this."

I didn't know.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The opening of Anywhere But Here shows Ann and her mother in a wrenching scene of abandonment and reconciliation. How does this episode reverberate throughout the novel? What happens when Ann decides she doesn't want her mother to come back for her?

2. The novel centers upon a mother-daughter relationship that is often painful, sometimes even violent, yet often loving as well. What is at stake in Ann's fights with her mother? How are love and hatred bound together here? What is distorted about the roles of mother and daughter? Later in the novel Adele begins to threaten suicide; what part does this behavior play in the ongoing struggle between Ann and Adele?

3. Anywhere But Here explores the role of family roots, rootedness, and uprooting in contemporary American life. Is there a qualitative difference between the lives of Ann and Adele, who left home, and the lives of those they left behind? Are those who leave necessarily the more ambitious and adventurous ones? Do you see the passivity that seems to be characteristic of both Lillian and Carol as a reflection of or as a reason for their rootedness?

4. Who is the ideal parent in the novel and why? Is Adele the sort of person who should not have become a parent? Is there anything positive about Adele as a mother? What role do fathers play in the novel?

5. Why does Simpson avoid giving Adele a speaking part until the end of the book? What is the effect of the first-person narratives of Lillian and Carol? Do you think these provide a useful perspective on Ann's story, or that the narrative might have been better spoken entirely by Ann?

6. Mona Simpson has said that in the beginning ofher work on this novel she disliked Adele, but developed a kind of affection for her as the work went forward. How do you feel about Adele? What might be at the root of her spectacularly poor judgment? What are we able to learn about her own emotional history, her own childhood?

7. How does the novel portray sex for women and girls? What role does sexuality play in the lives of each of the four main female characters--Lillian, Adele, Carol and Ann? Why do you think Ann wants to take nude photographs of other children? Does Ann's upbringing affect her ability to love?

8. Adele spends large amounts of money on expensive clothes that she can't afford in the belief that her physical attractiveness is necessary for getting Ann "a new daddy." What is the place of material objects like clothes and cars in Adele's sense of who she is? Is this a trait she passes on to Ann?

9. Apart from her grandmother, Ann's closest and most secure relationship is with her cousin Benny. How does Ben's death impact upon Ann's life? What do you find strange about the description of the family's gathering for the funeral visit?

10. How does food--especially ice cream--figure in the relationship between mother and daughter? Consider the place of food in Ann's visit to her mother near the end of the book: why does Adele have so much food in the house? Why does Simpson include the detail of the ants on the carrot cake?

11. As noted earlier, Simpson has decided to save Adele's narrative for the end of the novel. We have previously seen her through the eyes of her daughter, her sister, and her mother. Does this final section change your perspective on her in any way? Adele tells us that she has learned to feel better about herself through "The Course of Miracles, " a popular self-help program (533). What does this section suggest about Simpson's view of the current state of spirituality and moral self-examination in our culture?

12. Is there such a thing as "home" in Anywhere But Here? What would you say is the difference, symbolically, between Wisconsin and California in the novel? Is life shaped by place and social context as much as by one's parents and upbringing? What is most unmistakably American about the novel?

For discussion of ANYWHERE BUT HERE, THE LOST FATHER, and A REGULAR GUY:

1. What are some of the ways in which these novels identify the problems of family life in contemporary American culture? What is Mona Simpson's ideal of the family, and how do the families in these three novels fail or succeed in providing love, protection, identity, self-respect? Why is the importance of the child's point of view central to all three novels?

2. In The Lost Father, Mayan says, "So much of what determined what was life and what dream was still only money" [p. 116]. In each of these works, one's economic condition has a strong shaping influence on one's life. Is money--or its lack--the most fateful element in life? Which characters in these works are most dependent on money, or on the idea of wealth, in imagining and creating the kind of life they desire?

3. There is a range of narrative techniques in these three novels. There are several first-person narrators in Anywhere But Here, a single first-person narrator in The Lost Father, and a third person omniscient narrator in A Regular Guy. How do these technical choices on Simpson's part affect your experience of each of the novels?

4. About her approach to structure, Simpson has said, "I work paragraph to paragraph or even line to line.... I have an emotional sense of where things are going to, but I don't do a whole chart or anything like that." (From interview with Susannah Hunnewell, The New York Times Book Review, 9 February 1992, p. 10.) How would you describe and differentiate the structure of these novels? Henry James fondly called the novel form "a loose baggy monster." Do you think that Simpson's novels particularly fit this description?

5. How does Simpson control and convey the sense of time and of past and present? How important a role does memory play in these works?

6. Simpson started out as a poet, and her writing is often powerfully lyrical and imagistic. For example, in The Lost Father Mayan says of her mother, "in her private soul she is a child holding an empty glass jar waiting for the sky to fill it..." [p. 3]. What are some of the more striking images and descriptive passages you've noticed? How do such images affect or deepen your experience of the work?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 23 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2001

    a girl without a real home

    Mona Simpson's book 'Anywhere But Here' is a great read. There are many real life illusions in the book that make readers feel like they could be reading about themselves. This novel is about a young girl and her mother and their struggle to get by in life. Anne, the daughter, is a beautiful young girl and her mother, Adele, thinks she could succeed in show business, so they travel around the country. Adele is an over protective mother. The novel first describes the grandmother's life and goes all the way through to Anne's life. This makes parts of the book confusing and hard to picture, but later on the book explains itself. Many parts in the novel have smaller chapters within those parts. This makes the book seem more realistic but sometimes we do not know who is talking or don't really understand who the person is in contrast to the rest of the characters. Overall, though, this was a novel that anyone could read and enjoy.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2002

    A Plot is Anywhere But Here

    Mona Simpson¿s book, Anywhere But Here is a well written and well crafted fictional novel about a mother and daughter relationship. Adele August, mother of Ann, is a high spirited woman who doesn¿t fit the profile of a mom. She yearns for a life in California, to roam the easy street among actors and actresses. Adele even wants to have her own daughter become a star as well. She pushes Ann towards a direction she thinks will be great for her, wanting to give her daughter a life she didn¿t have. She forces Ann to become the adult and to be the one to think logically. Anywhere but Here is a good novel, but it lacks a solid plot. The flashbacks to the grandmother and the aunt throw off the flow of the story and the memories aren¿t properly organized. Although the vocabulary and sentence structure are simple, the reader really needs to pay close attention to each word in order to understand what is going on. The scenes change rapidly between past and present, and a lot of the setting switch over from house to car to hotel as well. I liked the book, but it wasn¿t the best I have read. I wouldn¿t recommend this book to anyone that likes action or suspense or any kind of a major conflict. Overall, the book needed a more developed plot to help the story flow.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2000

    Wonderful, From Beginning To End

    Anywhere But Here captured my attention and my heart only one chapter through. Mona Simpson displays true talent through her distinctive, masterful writing. Everything about Anywhere But Here is soulfully perfect-the quirky, yet lovable characters, the jumpy plots, and the realism. I recommend this brilliant novel to anyone who loves to read about family and the essence of life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2000

    The Best

    This is the best book I have ever read. The characters are so real. I also love the movie Susan Surandon and Natalie Portman portray Adele and Ann so perfectly

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2000

    Can You Tell Me If I'm Near, To Anywhere But Here?

    I am a big fan of the movie adaptation of this book mainly because of the film's supporting (though I think otherwise) actress, Natalie Portman. I simply adored the movie even though it was a 'chick flick', so sue me. I had one gripe about the movie and that was that it left alot of things open and unresolved. I decided to buy the book and see if it would bring closure to alot of the situations. As I was reading through it, I found out that there were MANY things that didn't even make it onscreen. Things that should've been included but would have made for a long drawn-out movie, much like a television mini-series. This book too was of the 'chick pick' genre, but I overlooked that (as I did with the movie). Superbly written, visually imaginative, this book took me awhile to finish but it did eventually close up the movie's plot holes. It makes me wonder whether the movie would have been more successful if Simpson were to have written the screenplay. I am now moving on to Natalie Portman's new movie 'Where The Heart Is'. This time I'm going to read the book before I see the movie. But, back to the subject, I highly recommend this book. It's geared more to the female population but I'm pretty sure males (such as myself) will find it just as satisfying.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2000

    Confusing, yet entertaining^_~

    This book was confusing. You have to read every sentence and understand it fully. One minute you're in the car traveling to California, the next minute your in Bay City, years before the move. Read every chapter, I mean EVERY CHAPTER!! They each explain something about the family. It was a good book all in all. Enjoy!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2000

    Anywhere But Here is the greatest book ever!!

    The book Anywhere But Here is such a great book its so much better than the movie I read the first few chapters and I couldn't put the book down I just loved it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2012

    Help me choose

    I am 11 years old and i am reding Steve Jobs by walter isaccson and he talks about mona simpson bieng a writer and that inspired me to read one of her books. I was wondering if you think that i would like this

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2010

    One of the Worst Books I've Ever (Almost) Read

    In my opinion, this book was absolutely horrible. Poorly written, it seemed to me nothing but a series of disjointed, rambling chapters with absolutely no discernable plot. I thought the characters were unlikeable and poorly developed, and I thought some were entirely irrelevant and misplaced in what I assume was the author's attempt at a story. In spite of lengthy, flowery paragraphs describing *facsinating* things like....rocks, pavement, and roads, the story never goes anywhere. I think this book is nearly ridiculous as a published novel. I found the bad writing terribly distracting, and became so frustrated because of it that I couldn't even force myself to finish the book. By the time I'd read nearly half of it, I still couldn't determine a story. The author never provides any background or explanation for either of the two main characters, an unhappy little girl and her neurotic mother. Shame on the publisher for subjecting the public to this waste of paper. Save your money!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2004

    Kind of Wishing I was Anywhere but There

    In Mona Simpson's 'Anywhere But Here', she shows a young girl's life as she grows up with her self-obsessed mother. Simpson fills the book with many short stories that have almost no connection to the rest of the book. The first few pages are a hard read because of the many characters to connect and the many metaphors, similes, and long description paragraphs.Simpson doesn't give enough description of Ann or her her mother, Adele, to get a clear picture of ages, looks, or motives. Although the book is an interesting look at a mother and daughter's roller-coaster ride of a relationship, it is not a book that I would recommend investing in

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2002

    Just an "OK" book

    Set in modern times, Mona Simpson's fictional book "Anywhere But Here" takes us through a mother-daughter relationship full of misunderstandings and disagreements. Adele, Anne's mother, pressures Anne to look beautiful and thin so that she can become a notorious movie star in Hollywood. Even though Adele has high aspirations for Anne, she can't quite seem to live the life that she has in mind. She is consistently trying to find "the perfect father" for Anne but comes up short after many different dates. Adele finally decides to take Anne to California and eagerly searches for movie shoots and jobs for Anne. This whole ordeal of becoming famous is seen throughout the book but in the end Anne is just a normal child and her mother is left wondering why her idea of Anne becoming famous was never fulfilled. Even though the plot is intriguing, it is quite drawn out. The sentences flow well with one another and are quite colloquial but the prolonged story makes the readability difficult. While reading throught the book we as readers are left wondering why some scenes are even inserted. Many of these scenes are distracting as well as unnecessary. Mona Simpson's writing style also affects the overall readability of "Anywhere But Here." Her chapters jump from character to character letting us see the different views of each character on specific events. However, most of the chapters are seen through Anne's unemotional viewpoint. Carol, Adele's sister, also plays part in a few of the chapters describing Adele's past life and attempting to demonstrate to us readers why Adele acts in the manner that she does. Adele has one chapter in the very end which, unlike Anne's, is full of emotion. As readers, we are left confused as to why Simpson didn't add as much emotion into Anne's character like she does with Adele. As she jumps from character to character, she also skips from year to year ignoring chronological order. This makes for a hard-to-understand organization of stories. One minute we think that Anne is an eighteen-year-old woman and the next we find out that she is only a twelve-year-old child. Not only that, sometimes Simpson doesn't even mention the age and we are left trying to decipher Anne's age by Simpson's inferring style. Overall, the book depicted a real-life situation that we are able to relate to, but the whole storyline was hard to follow. I would suggest watching the movie before the story because you may begin the story but find out that you are unable to finish the difficult storyline.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2012

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