Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Dear Ann

Dear Ann by Bobbie Ann Mason
HarperCollins: 9/8/20
review copy; 352 pages

Dear Ann by Bobbie Ann Mason is a recommended, maybe, novel where a woman re-imagines her life and her first love.

Ann Workman is on a cruise ship with her dying husband, looking back at her life, her first love, and the choices she made. She re-imagines her life from the perspective if she had listened to her college mentor, Albert, and went from rural Kentucky to California to attend graduate school at Stanford in the 1960s. Ann not only desires a PhD she is yearning for a boyfriend. Then Jimmy, her first boyfriend appears in her California experience. This is during the time of the Vietnam War and the country is in turmoil, but especially California which is the apex of the counter culture and protests.

This is a quintessential the-road-not-taken novel. Dear Ann is without a question beautifully written, but there are some imperfections that are difficult to overlook. The look back at what might have happened if Ann went to Palo Alto, California, in the sixties is flawed. Would all the free love, LSD, pot, and the new Beatles album have made a profound difference in her life were it experienced in California? Would it have made a difference if she met Jimmy in California? The transitions from the present to the re-imagined past, with the present reappearing occasionally, feels awkward. There are details that are more reflective of someone leaving home. The letters her mother writes to her about things happening on the family farm in Kentucky are a good touch and feel realistic. The fifty-year-old letters from Albert seem less likely to have been kept.

The characters are written more as caricatures of stereotypes representing different points-of-view found in the sixties. They are all lacking emotional depth. Many of the daily experiences the characters go through seem insignificant. They are generally indicative of the setting or the times, but less important to any advancement of the plot. While this is a love gained and lost story, it also strives to be a historical novel set in the tumultuous sixties in California. In the final analysis, I didn't really care about Ann and her musings over what might-have-been-if-only. Perhaps if the novel had been just a reflection of her looking back at her first love and left out the whole California experience it would have resonated with me more.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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