Eighteen-year-old Annie leaves Brooklyn to join her longtime boyfriend Carl in the Midwest, where he’s attending law school. The two get married against their families’ wishes. This book takes them through their first year of marriage and the birth of their first child.
While Annie is not exactly the same person as Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, she might as well be. Her name and ethnicity are changed, and her situation is slightly different, but this book is pretty much a sequel to Brooklyn. Both this book and Brooklyn are both loosely based on Betty Smith’s life and experience, so it doesn’t surprise me that this felt like an unintended sequel.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think this one was as well put together as Brooklyn. First, it focused really heavily on the daily minutia of this married couple’s life, going over every single one of their fights and their happy moments in detail. That was a little tedious and repetitive after awhile, and felt more like a prettied up diary than a novel. Second, the book felt a little syrupy and false, like the sorts of books some people write for children when they don’t treat the children like people. You know those books? Where it feels like the author is talking down to the child? That’s what this book felt like. You see a little of that in Brooklyn, but most of it has been polished out. This one lacked polish. Last, the ending is rushed and abrupt and a little too neat. Suddenly everything falls into place and a whole year passes in a couple paragraphs. Considering the hundreds of pages spent on the first year of their marriage, this really jarred me. I know people have said the same thing about Brooklyn, but to me it felt accurate because Francie was growing up (and thus time felt to her like it was passing much quicker), plus it wasn’t that quick. The speed up at the end of this book felt like Smith got bored and wanted to end the book quickly.
There were also good things about the book. It was an interesting cultural study of the late-20s Midwest. I really felt bad for Annie and Carl because both their mothers thought they got married because Annie was pregnant, when really she didn’t get pregnant until a few months into their marriage. I feel for them particularly on this issue because I got pregnant a month after Jason and I married, and people assumed the same thing about us (especially since we decided to get married really quickly). I also really cared about the characters despite the syrupy writing. So in all, this was a mixed experience for me. I’m glad I read it, but I think I’ll stick with Smith’s more famous work in the future.