Friday, September 23, 2011

There Goes the Neighborhood

They say hell hath no fury than a woman scorned. I have always thought that statement was somewhat misogynistic. Plenty of men that I have seen have done some pretty awful things when scorned. Moreover, it kind of blankets over the underlying issue behind someone's anger. "A Kind of Intimacy," by Jenn Ashworth tackles these issues and the societal prejudices we hold towards that group so easily classified as the "Other."

This book in some ways parallels "Queen of the Tambourine." Both books come from British female authors, both look into the goings-on of middle and upper-middle class British citizens and both delve into the mind of complex female character who may be a few books short of a Bible all the while keeping the reader right behind the shoulder of the protagonist. That this is Ms. Ashworth's first effort and it draws such easy comparisons to an established voice of British lit bodes well for her literary future.

Our main character starts out innocently enough. Fresh move, fresh start, new neighbors- everything appears normal. Much of her inner thinking (over thinking) is symptomatic of anyone who does not fit society's perception of normal. Her difference is her size; Annie is extremely obese. However, I feel that this is just her particular "otherness." It could easily be replaced with being gay, having a different skin color, a physical handicap etc. As time and months go on, Annie pulls the reader into her world and her mind- though the difference there is minimal. Annie's mind notably alters the world she sees. The reader serves as another of Annie's neighbor, though one who has the benefit of being next to Annie all the time.

Slowly, Annie's delicate underpinnings of sanity fall away. Her actions quickly become apparent for what they are to her neighbors. By themselves, they would make Annie quite the villain by the book's end. Ashworth does not take that route; instead, she layers in Annie's back-story. She shows a girl who became a woman without anyone to show her how to do so, surrounded by men who alternately ignore her and exploit her for her size. We see that Annie is not a monster by choice or by disease. Annie is a product of her environment, conditioned by her years of torment. Wounds are not always inflicted with words, weapons and fists. Silence and shame ultimately prove just as damaging as the rest.

Humor pops in and out (I think there is an inherently British tendency to show that even among the highest tragedy and drama humor can be found), but don't expect "A Kind of Intimacy" to offer you a hug at the end or some consoling words to commend you for getting through. It is a tough book, an intelligent and entertaining book, but above all, it is a thoughtful book. The reader questions what sane and crazy mean and wonders if, somewhere along the way, a single action taken by someone in Annie’s life might have changed everything for her. Annie may not be redeemable character, she remains difficult to condemn as well. I think, above all, she endures as an all-too-real human character.