Posts Tagged ‘L.M. Montgomery’

ana2This time last week I was catching up with childhood pal Scout Finch. This week, it’s Anne Shirley, star of L.M. Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables and its sequels. Only this Anne is 15 year-old Ana Cortez, an East L.A. orphan desperate to avoid being sent to yet another group home. Then her social worker offers her the chance to work on a farm run by a brother and sister.

Hmm. The similarities — and differences — between Montgomery’s book and Andi Teran’s first novel Ana of California (Penguin Books, digital galley) are both obvious and intentional. Teran takes Anne of Green Gables as her inspiration and runs with it, updating the familiar story and characters but also veering in different directions when it suits her. I’m not generally in favor of authors piggybacking on favorite tales and characters, unless they can offer an original take, as with Laurie R. King’s  Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series or Helen Fieldings’ Bridget Jones books. Teran’s Ana may be as talkative and imaginative as Anne, and she has that same ache to belong, but she also emerges as a unique heroine in her own right, a talented artist burdened by a traumatic childhood.

Plunked down on the Garber farm in the tiny town of Hadley in northern California, city girl Ana doesn’t know the differences between blackberry bushes and vegetable plants, herbs and weeds. But she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and she works hard, determined to prove herself to gruff Emmett Garber. His sister Abbie is more sympathetic but also demanding, and Ana’s quick tongue gets her into misunderstandings with some of the farm’s neighbors and customers. She does makes a friend of fellow outsider Rye Moon and also attracts the attention of a rich kid on a neighboring farm. Still, unaware of family secrets, she inadvertently stirs up trouble that could send her back to L.A.

References to drugs, gangs and pop culture keep the story contemporary, but vulnerable Ana’s struggle to find her place in the world is timeless. Ana Cortez and Anne Shirley are kindred spirits, and Ana of California is a pleasing coming-of-age YA crossover.

augustIt’s been ages since I read Elizabeth Antrim’s 1922 novel The Enchanted April and saw the 1991 gem of a movie, but I have fond memories of both. Antrim’s comedy of manners about four Londoners who share a chateau in Italy is witty and wise, and the Mike Newell film glows in a sun-drenched paradise. There’s also a warm glow to Brenda Bowen’s update, Enchanted August: A Novel (Penguin Publishing, digital galley), where a huge “cottage” on a small Maine island subs as the transformative getaway for four disaffected New Yorkers.

Bowen keeps the same characters and names for the most part, although elderly widow Mrs. Fisher has become elderly Beverly Fisher, a gay man mourning the loss of of his longtime partner, a famous songwriter, and his beloved cat Possum. But he’s just as outwardly surly and selfish as the original character — he keeps the only coffeepot for himself in the desirable turret room — and the pleasure at watching him thaw is the same. Lottie and Rose also charm as the aggrieved wives and mothers who blossom in the sun and salt air, and young indie actress Caroline also falls under the spell of Little Lost Island. Lottie unwinds enough to invite her uptight attorney husband and toddler son to visit, and Caroline is text-flirting with a best-selling author who longs to meet her in person. He writes under a pseudonym so Caroline has no idea he is actually Rose’s philandering husband. Even as Rose is contemplating asking him to join her on the island, the house’s tweedy owner arrives in hopes of wooing Rose. So, yes, it’s a Maine midsummer night’s dream, but it’s also a smoothly written beach book. I couldn’t stop smiling.

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NBC has been filling up empty airtime around the Olympics with stories on all things Canadian: Royal Mounties, beer, cuisine, fashion, wildlife, actors and so on. As far as I know — I haven’t been glued to the set — we’ve seen nothing yet on Canadian writers, and I think I know why. They’re very much part of our  own  literary landscape. Only rarely do you hear the word “Canadian” in front of short-story virtuoso Alice Munro, novelist Margaret Atwood or beloved children’s author L.M. Montgomery. The late, great Robertson Davies was invariably identified as “Canada’s literary lion,” but I’d forgotten — if I ever knew –that  Douglas Coupland, W.P. Kinsella  and Nick Bantock are Canadians all. And more confusing, Carol Shields, winner of the 1993 Pulitzer for The Stone Diaries, had dual citizenship. She was born in Chicago but moved to Canada in 1957 when she married.

How much of a role Canada itself plays in their books varys from one author to the next, and sometimes from book to book.  It’s impossible to disassociate Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables stories from Prince Edward Island, and Atwood drew on a 19th-century Canadian crime in Alias Grace. But Atwood’s dystopias of The Handmaid’s Tale or The Year of the Flood are hardly Canada — or Earth — as we know it, and crime novelist Peter Robinson, who lives in Canada, has as his series protagonst a detective in Yorkshire, England.

That’s not the case with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, star of Louise Penny’s series of award-winning crime novels set in the quaint Quebec village of Three Pines.  The Brutal Telling, the fifth and finest so far, was published last fall to deserved acclaim. Sins of the past resurface, and the murder mystery stretches across the continent to British Columbia before Gamache makes an arrest. Setting and character matter very much in these well-crafted tales, in which Penny blends the conventions of the traditional village mystery of Agatha Christie with the psychological insight of Ruth Rendell. (Christie and Rendell, of course, are Brits, which just goes to show you that categorizing by nationality is beside the point.)

Margaret Atwood, who resists labels of all kinds, told me as much in an interview some years ago:

“I’m addressing the country of readers. That is the real divide — not between genders or nationalities. It’s not a matter of locale. It’s between those who read and those who don’t.”

I pledge allegiance to the country of readers…

Open Book: I own several editions of Montgomery’s books, and the  publisher of The Brutal Telling (St. Martin’s/Minotaur) sent me an ARC (advance reading copy) last fall.

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