The Book Itself: Not entirely sure what the nape of a redheaded woman’s neck has to do with the story…but it’s a nice, simple picture. The title really stands out on top of it (also: if that were my hair, there is no way that messy/casual style would stay up all day…)
My Review: At nineteen, Annie Black abandons California for a London winter of drinking to oblivion and looking for love in the wrong places. Twenty years later, she is a happily married mother of three living in San Francisco. Then one morning, a photograph arrives in her mailbox, and an old obsession is awakened.
After a return trip to London, Annie’s marriage falters, her store floods, and her son, Robbie, takes a night-time ride that nearly costs him his life. Now Annie must fight to save her family by untangling the mysteries of that reckless winter in Europe that drew an invisible map of her future.
Annie Black is what we’d call a “hot mess.” In the span of a weekend, her livelihood, marriage, and the life of her oldest child are thrown into jeopardy. So naturally she spends the entire book reflecting on her past and the itty bitty moments that led up to each unraveling. You know the whole thing is going to build up to some big, hairy reveal, and it’s a bumpy, sometimes fascinating ride to get there, but some character flaws are too grating to ignore, and the framing of the narrative still has me scratching my head.
To start off with: this book suffers from a kind of How I Met Your Mother effect. Annie Black tells the events of the story to her oldest child, after his hospitalization for a serious accident. And she is very…generous…with her description. Kind of like how in Mother, Ted supposedly frequently tells his kids about allllll the women he slept with before he met their mother? Yeah, Annie Black does much the same with her story. They must have a very open relationship. If I were her son, hearing/reading this, I’d be horrified.
But she’s a fictional person and I get that it’s a story-telling vehicle that allows for a lot of personal introspection. Still though…no one wants to hear their mother go into the nitty, gritty detail about her sex life.
And still…you want to shake Annie sometimes, for how stupid she’s being. Why are you doing this to yourself? Why are you ruining everything around you? Why are you toying with this guy’s emotions? That guy’s emotions? QUIT WHINING! Instead of seeing a real growth in her character from when she recalls her 19-year-old self to her grown, married-and-with-children self, we see her making the same mistakes, making the same excuses and generalizations about herself and the people around her. The moments of frustration with her character outweighed the times I felt real sympathy and/or empathy with her.
There’s a twist in there that I honestly did not see coming. Maybe I should have? But I didn’t. That’s always nice: when you actually do a little gasp out loud while reading.
The book is nicely written. It flows well, and the European settings are nice color. Annie can be a bit needling, but it’s a very human piece. It’s got some really nice moments, and for that, it gets a pretty good rating.
My Grade: B