Anywhere but Here Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1986

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: The 1930’s to the 1970’s

Locale: Bay City, Wisconsin, to Hollywood, California

Characters DiscussedAnn August

Ann Anywhere but HereAugust, the narrator of four sections. Ann, the daughter of Adele August, recalls moments from her youth, especially the tensions in her relationship with her mother over a period of several years.

Adele August

Adele August, the narrator of the last chapter. Mother to Ann, daughter to Lillian, and sister to Carol, Adele possesses lofty ambitions. She foists those desires on Ann, dragging her across America in search of a glamorous identity for both of them in Hollywood. Adele rarely sees beyond surface impressions and allows her myopic view to dominate and control her life and her daughter’s.


Carol, the narrator of three sections, all of which are addressed to Ann. Sister to Adele, wife to Jimmy, and mother to Benny (who died in his late teens) and Hal, Carol is eleven years older than Adele. She worked as a teletype operator for the WACs during World War II, and she secretly married a French Jew who attempted to kill Adolf Hitler. Because he died on the train returning with Carol to Wisconsin, Carol did not tell her family that she had a husband before Jimmy. She finally tells Ann.


Lillian, the narrator of one chapter, which is addressed to Ann. Lillian, Adele and Carol’s mother, describes her unplanned pregnancy with Carol, her relationships with both young women, and her experiences with sexual relations, which she ultimately finds repugnant.

BibliographyBeevor, Antony. “Heading West.” The Times Literary Supplement, June 26, 1987, 698. This enthusiastic reading of the novel identifies Simpson as a member of the “hyper-realist” school of fiction. Beevor appreciates Simpson’s attention to detail, finding the depiction of the paradoxes of American culture fascinating. He assures the English reader that Anywhere but Here is a special, not a typical, example of the great American novel.Flower, Dean. “Anywhere but Here.” Hudson Review 40 (Summer, 1987): 321. Flower takes the title of his review of several contemporary novels from his personal favorite. He compares Simpson’s novel to, among other works, A Summons to Memphis (1986), by Peter Taylor.Heller, Dana A. “Shifting Gears: Transmission and Flight in Mona Simpson’s Anywhere but Here.” University of Hartford Studies in Literature 21 (1989): 37-44. The theme of escape is a concern of this study. Heller also focuses on mother-daughter relationships and on the nature of desire in the novel.Kakutani, Michiko. Review of Anywhere but Here. The New York Times, December 24, 1986, p. C16. This review analyzes the effectiveness of Simpson’s characterization of Adele and Ann, as well as the effectiveness of Lillian and Carol’s intertwining narratives. Takes an important look at how the American family structure influences the effect of the novel.Morse, Deborah Denenholz. “The Difficult Journey Home: Mona Simpson’s Anywhere but Here.” In Mother Puzzles: Daughters and Mothers in Contemporary American Literature, edited by Mickey Pearlman. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. Morse’s essay is an exploration of themes in the novel from a literary point of view. She discusses the mythic importance of the issue of flight and the search for home, evoking the biblical story of Eden. Morse also deals frankly with the issue of Ann’s sexual development.Schreiber, Le Anne. “In Thrall to a Lethal Mother.” The New York Times Book Review 92 (January 11, 1987): 7. This review speculates on the reader’s reactions to the novel’s characters and narrative structure. Schreiber predicts a feeling of frustration in response to the psychological turmoil depicted.Simpson, Mona. “Mona Simpson: The Return of the Prodigal Father.” Interview by Jonathan Bing. Publishers Weekly 243 (November 4, 1996): 50-51. Simpson discusses her probing of family dynamics and her background and acknowledges that much of her work is autobiographical.Stone, Laurie. “Motherhood Is Powerful.” The Village Voice 32, no. 5 (February 3, 1987): 47. Examines Ann and Adele’s relationship, points out Simpson’s use of the traditional American road story, and admires Simpson’s way of making the reader listen.
Categories: Characters