Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Anybody Out There

2006, 2007 Penguin edition
Marian Keyes
Anybody Out There
Original price $10.99, purchase price $5.50
Worn paperback

Despite all its flaws, this is my favorite of the series, so far.  OK, get out the Keyes Flaws Checklist:

1.  Ethnic stereotypes?  Check, although they're not as prominent as in Rachel's Holiday, and arguably the Irish are more stereotyped than other groups.
2.  Gay and lesbian stereotypes?  Check, although they're presented more affectionately than in the past, partly because Anna is a nicer person than Claire or Rachel.  (No mention is made of Maggie's lesbian fling.)
3.  Size-queening?  A bit, but it's Helen remarking on Adam, to annoy Claire, so that's fine.
4.  Inconsistent characterisation?  Oh yeah, starting with the main character.  

Anna is still the nicest of the Walsh sisters (again, this is like Harpo being the nicest Marx brother), but she's much less spacy than before, although still interested in the occult (with reason it turns out).  She's no longer a latterday hippie and instead has a very upscale New-York job as a cosmetics marketer.  It's supposed to be the Best Job in the World, because she gets free cosmetics and the like, but it comes across as incredibly stressful, with her bosses offering her no sympathy to her situation (again, I'll get to that).  Meanwhile, Rachel is back in New York, now engaged to Luke (who is much sweeter than before).  You'd think Rachel would be a Bridezilla, but, no, she's a very mellow, rational addiction counselor.  Thank God for Helen, who is as unsentimental and hilarious as ever, whether in person or email.  And Mum chimes in as well, providing counterpoint.

It's roughly four years after Angels, with Claire now 40 and the mother of three children, Kate the eldest at 12.  Helen is 29 but still living at home, mostly because it's free.  Anna is 32 and newly widowed, although this doesn't become clear till about a third of the way in.  It seems at first that Anna can't accept that her marriage has broken up, but then we find out that she's in denial about her husband Aidan's death.  There are complications, including that her bosses are horrified that she's scarred (not out of sympathy but because of their business), and the story does verge on soap-operatic at times, but I never stopped caring about Anna and what happens to her, even if it's not the Anna of past books.  

The novel is so rich and funny and bittersweet that I can overlook its flaws somewhat, including that I don't give a damn about the cosmetics industry.  (At that, I think there's a great deal of parody in Keyes's portrayal.)  The book does at times get a bit Sex-and-the-City-ish, although ironically Anna is celibate except in flashbacks, understandably given her mourning.  There is a Mr. Big, but he's an Irish crime-lord, and even that is presented playfully.  I'm looking forward to getting The Mystery of Mercy Close, Helen's book, in paperback, but I'm afraid it'll be too late for this project, at the rate I'm going.

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