publication date: 1985
Annie John had a lot of potential. And from the glowing reviews on the book jacket, it seems as though many critics thought it fulfilled its potential. Unfortunately, the book fell flat for me.
I was repelled right away by the tone of the book. It was written from Annie John’s point of view and started with her as a precocious child. I assume the tone was meant to be charming or convey spunk. I found it to be affected, off-putting, and boring.
The book followed Annie John as she grew from a young girl to a young woman. The potential of the book arose from its subject matter: a study of a young woman’s adolescence. Jamaica Kincaid explored issues concerning the familial bonds that change, not necessarily for the better, during adolescence. Especially intense was the relationship between Annie John and her mother, as portrayed in one of Annie John’s inner monologues about her parents:
The bitter thing about it is that they are just the same and it is I who have changed, so all the things I used to be and all the things I used to feel are as false as the teeth in my father’s head. Why, I wonder, didn’t I see the hypocrite in my mother when, over the years, she said that she loved me and could hardly live without me, while at the same time proposing and arranging separation after separation, including this one, which, unbeknownst to her, I have arranged to be permanent? So now I, too, have hypocrisy, and breasts (small ones), and hair growing in the appropriate places, and sharp eyes, and I have made a vow never to be fooled again.
However, although Annie John’s adolescence could have been interesting, instead it was melodramatic and unlikable. (As I’m typing this, I’m wondering if maybe that was all part of Kincaid’s plan. Teens are melodramatic, although not necessarily unlikable.). Also, notwithstanding the maudlin nature of the writing, it was somehow boring. Here’s an example:
I couldn’t hear what it was they said, but I could see the words leave their mouths. The words traveled through the air toward me, but just as they reached my ears they would fall to the floor, suddenly dead.
Unfortunately, the power of that verbose passage fell to the floor, suddenly dead. My favorite bit of poor writing is this passage, wherein Kincaid explained her own metaphor:
My parents had just bought me a View-Master. The View-Master came with pictures of the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Mt. Everest, and scenes of the Amazon River. When the View-Master worked properly, all the scenes looked as if they were alive, as if we could just step into the View-Master and sail down the Amazon River or stand at the foot of the pyramids. When the View-Master wasn’t working properly, it was as if we were looking at an ordinary, colorful picture. When I looked at this girl, it was as if the View-Master wasn’t working properly.
This review showcases many negative aspects of Annie John, but the book had some positive parts. There were interesting statements about mother-daughter relationships and some lively wordplay. Although the book was not my favorite, it’s not one I would completely pan, either.
3/6: more good than bad
Other reviews of the book: