3 out of 4 stars
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From award-winning author, J. Everett Prewitt, comes Something about Ann, set in the ’70s in the US. The book comprises a novella, Something about Ann, and a collection of short stories and it follows a group of African-American veterans in their road to rehabilitation. You are first introduced to Clarence Bankston whom we get to spend the most time with. It becomes apparent soon the war left some unpleasant, unseen scars upon his mind. His story focuses on his romance with a Vietnamese woman, as well as his struggle to reconcile his feelings with the memory of the Vietnam War. The collection of short stories completes the perspective by following Clarence’s comrades and good friends. Each of them offers a look into different approaches to life.
The novella is a powerful, insightful narrative focused on the alienation brought by war. I enjoyed it more than the short stories because the internal conflict of the main character is fascinating. Not to say the short stories do not deal with their share of internal conflict. However, the appeal of the novella comes from the battle between Clarence’s war training and his unbridled emotions. The author does a splendid job at letting the reader know the situation between Bankston and his romantic interest — Ann Minh Bourdain — is odd, to say the least.
Something about Ann left me heartbroken, in the best way possible. I found it to be, at times, uncomfortably intimate, to the point I wanted to avert my gaze from the page. At the same time, it’s a suspenseful lecture, begging you to continue. The genius comes from the fact the story gave me plenty of reasons to arrive at the conclusion the novella ends on. At the same time, the author fed the hope I had for the culmination of the novella to be of a different nature.
Throughout the entire book, I noticed one aspect that made me enjoy all the stories. That is the presence and the role the female characters play in the lives of the main characters. They are interesting actors in the stories they feature in, coming from all types of backgrounds. Some are there to ease the difficulties of rehabilitation after the war, while others drive the narratives they inhabit.
Despite being set in the 1970s Cleveland, there is a strong feminine presence in both the novella and the short stories that follow it. I especially enjoyed Valerie from The Education of Xavier Warfield. Warfield is an avid snooker player, although his career suffers from his habit of letting his past traumas sabotage his chances. Valerie appears in Xavier’s life, not as a saving grace but as an enigma he can’t give up on. By the end, she is an important driving force behind Xavier’s growth, and her character is one of the most lovable ones throughout the book.
The novella, as well as the short stories, do explore mental health and the struggle of having lived through a war in a mature manner. The trials of the veterans do not come into play to elicit sympathy from the reader. Their more or less precarious mental health being is not used as the building blocks for their characters. Instead, Prewitt explores the inner workings of his characters with a level of sensibility and maturity that makes their mental battles not only believable but candid. The opening images are overwhelming, as they throw you in the middle of the jungle next to the protagonists, helplessly watching them deal with the war. It’s visceral - and I love it for that.
As mentioned, the book features a collection of short stories and, while entertaining in their own merit, I found it hard to enjoy them as much as I did the novella. There are beautiful narratives, like With One Exception that explores the relationship between an African-American who is not particularly fond of interacting with white people and a former comrade who happens to be a white man. They bond through their shared understanding of the war, and it’s one of the more moralist stories you can find in the book. While Clarence Bankston is a memorable character, I didn’t feel as attached to the other protagonists.
If you enjoy shorter lectures which still manage to explore various parts of the same universe, this book is perfect for you. Moreover, if historical fiction and the ’70s interest you, this work does a great job at exploring the socio-economic setting it takes place in. Along with that, the book offers a frank and seasoned look into what the effects of the war are and spends a good part of its narrative exploring the mind of its characters. As mentioned, it’s a character-driven lecture - in case you are passionate about character study, this could be a brilliant book for you. But, I would not recommend it to anyone looking for a detail oriented book or passionate about world-building. The novella’s timeline does omit years and the short stories do not focus on the world as much as they do on the protagonists and their relationships.
In conclusion, I rate Something about Ann by J. Everett Prewitt 3 out of 4 stars. I enjoyed the novella, but the short stories are hit or miss, depending on what your expectations are when going in. I found this book to be a thoughtful, respectful portrayal of the struggles veterans deal with, inhabited by generally interesting characters. It features a strong female cast and shares a fascinating look at the socio-economic environment of the 70s Cleveland. I recommend this book to anyone who likes character-driven narratives, historical fiction or someone looking for a shorter — yet fulfilling — lecture.
Something About Ann
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