mystery of the annes

Question. Do all the Annes mean something? For many years now, I’ve been adding Annes to my favored author list. It all started with Annie Proulx (AP) and her novel The Shipping News. I moved on from that novel to reading most of her other fiction, both short and long. AP is primarily a Western writer, and her characters are often fringe types, loners, roamers, outsiders. I read her novel That Old Ace in the Hole when I lived only a few hours from the Texas Panhandle region where it was set. I read a lot of her fiction when I lived out there in North Texas and it helped me a little bit to understand my own place as a loner in what I saw at the time as an unforgiving open land.

When I moved here to Baltimore, I started reading Anne Tyler (AT) novels on a sporadic basis. I’ve probably read about 10 of them by now. I wanted to read AT because her books are usually set in Baltimore. I’d never lived anywhere before that also happened to be the specific setting for a writer’s books. It added a special extra thrill to the reading. AT’s characters, much like AP’s, are often loners and oddballs. Often in her books these loner oddballs find other loner oddballs to be with, although not without encountering much difficulty along the way. Reading her books always puts me in a strange headspace, yet one that also seems familiar because of all the Baltimore references. I enjoy this.

The third literary Anne to enter my life was Annie Dillard (AD). I fell in love with her writing immediately. I began a mass consumption project. I’ve read most of her books by now, although I’m saving a few for the future, mostly because AD has alluded to the probability that she won’t write another book (too much reading to do, says she). The ones I’m saving are her memoir and her two books of poetry. I started the memoir once but it didn’t click. The same thing happened with her first novel, The Living. I tried hard to get through it but eventually realized I was bored and didn’t care what happened to the characters. That’s always a sign for me that the book isn’t working and it’s time to put it down. I thought maybe AD’s fiction just wasn’t for me, but then The Maytrees came out and proved me wrong. Still, it is her nonfiction that captivates me most. I know I will be rereading much of it, despite my general tendency not to reread books.

Now along comes Anne Sexton (AS) and Anne Carson (AC). I’ve read more of AC than AS at this point, and I can say that I’m already enthralled with the former while still plumbing the depths of the latter. What I like most about AC is her mixing of genres. A book of hers can contain poems, essays, opera librettos, screenplays, and various bits of unclassified text. I get the sense that she does not force herself into formats that her thoughts don’t want to go. As the writing flows, it begins to take form. None of this, I’m going to sit down and write a poem now. Despite the intimidation I feel at her stunning intellectual prowess, her writing still feels liberating and accessible to me. It feels like reading an academic treatise but without the formal constraints that usually come with such writing. She pulls from so many disparate sources and ties it all together so it makes perfect sense, although often only if I read it closely.

So what is it about the Annes?

Other inputs: My sister was born an Anne and now goes by Annie. She reads a lot. When I first moved to this city my best friend was dating an Anne. I had never seen him so happy. I thought they might make it. But sadly they did not.

Anne is the French form of Anna, which is a form of Channah (or Hannah), a name used in the Latin and Greek Old Testament. In Hebrew the name Channah means ‘favor’ or ‘grace,’ or more specifically, ‘He (God) favors me’. The Book of Luke, in the New Testament, mentions a prophetess Hannah who recognized the child Jesus as the Messiah. Anna became a popular Western Christian name during the Middle Ages because of Saint Anna, the mother of the Virgin Mary. Anne is still a popular name in France. In England it is also commonly spelled Ann. Various forms of the name appear in most Western and Eastern European nations, as well as Russia.

My aunt’s name is spelled Ann, and she is the daughter of Irish immigrants.

I’m sure we all recognize patterns in our lives. I try not to ignore them. Sometimes they are ones yawning behind me I want to avoid in the future so I try to learn from them. Sometimes they are merely part of life’s effluence. And sometimes they appear to be mystical messages encrypted and in need of decoding. I feel like I am in constant search of a decoder ring.

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  1. The moment you think you have the answers decoding the patterns they tell you you’re psychotic.

  2. It’s interesting that you notice the patterns though.

  3. – I read The Shipping News years ago, loved it! The Newfoundland coast could maybe be compared to rural Norway, but I liked this book not because of things I recognized, but for its strangeness.
    – I have read Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years, I really didn’t like it as much as I thought I would, but maybe I should try again, with another book…
    – Totally agree with your view on Dillard! I keep rereading her non-fiction, its as good as it gets!
    – I have yet to read Anne Sexton, but she is on my list, and Anne Carson – well, what can I say … breathtaking!

    PS: Not to freak you out; but I’ve also got a sister named Anne – .

    • I have Ladder of Years but haven’t read it yet. Some of my favorites of hers include Searching for Caleb, Patchwork Planet, and Celestial Navigation. I think she did her best writing early in her career. Some of the more recent ones aren’t so great.

  4. While reading you here, I’ve occasionally wondered whether you might like Anna Kavan (though she was actually born a Helen and AK is merely a nom de plume, so I’m not sure whether you’ll allow her into your pattern). Specifically her short stories – ‘The birds dancing’ and ‘A visit’ are favourites of mine – but perhaps also her apocalyptic novel ‘Ice’, though it is a little uneven.

    • Thank you for mentioning her. One of the people whose reviews I follow on GoodReads raves about her and his reviews have piqued my interest on several occasions. Both your comment and the now-realized Anna connection (nom de plume notwithstanding) confirm a likely good fit. In fact, now that I’m reading more about her she sounds suitably dark and weird enough to advance to the top of my to-read pile. Library trip on Monday!



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