(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Anywhere but Here is the fictionalized saga of an American family. Three generations of women take turns narrating chapters of a personal and cultural history that spans the years between the turn of the twentieth century and the beginning of the 1980’s. The novel’s nine parts do not proceed chronologically. The speakers relate events as they recall them, each adding detail and emotion to one another’s stories.

The first batch of memories is delivered by Ann, beginning with her infuriated mother’s practice of stopping the car on the roads of the family’s native Wisconsin and the highways that lead to California and forcing her daughter out of the car. After driving out of sight, Adele usually returns minutes later, often with an ice-cream cone as a peace offering. What brings Adele and Ann to a strip of desert highway near the California border, and later to the posh Bel-Air Hotel, is a trail of men that includes Ted Diamond, a skating instructor with whom Adele buys a house in a Wisconsin suburb. A secret plan to flee Wisconsin for Los Angeles, where Ann can have a career in television, a dream her mother has always encouraged, is disrupted by Adele’s marriage to Ted. When life in Wisconsin finally becomes too unpleasant, Adele and twelve-year-old Ann load up an almost-new Lincoln Continental they can ill afford and begin the journey West.

Ann pauses, and her grandmother begins to speak. Lillian narrates the events of her life, from girlhood in a large Catholic family to a sexual encounter with and marriage to Art in the early years of the twentieth century. Carol is born shortly thereafter, and Adele is born years later, at the beginning of the Great Depression. Lillian continues to describe the family tree: Carol marries Jimmy Measey, a local Bay City man, after she returns from World War II; they have two sons, Hal and Benny. Adele marries an Egyptian community-college professor named Hisham;...

(The entire section is 793 words.)