I, Anna by Elsa Lewin

I, AnnaI, Anna by Elsa Lewin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I, Anna, recently released as an ebook, was originally written in 1984. It paints a grim picture, laced with dark humor, of a fifty year-old woman trying to make some kind of life for herself after her husband leaves her and takes all of their friends and possessions with him. She is a barely tolerated house guest in her daughter’s crowded apartment with no job, no friends, and worst of all, nothing to do.

The only thing Anna still has going for her is her own wry sense of humor. I’m going to quote from the beginning here:

Anna opened her eyes. Mean gray light intruded around the sides of the window shades. She closed her eyes tight.
“Shit, I’m still alive…”
She tried to concentrate on her two big problems.
One: she had to get out of bed.
Two: she had to decide what to do after that.

On her own for the first time in decades, Anna drifts through the world of Manhattan singles parties, where wrinkled women fight for the right to flirt with paunchy, middle-aged men. One night she lets herself be taken home by one of these flabby Lotharios, but when the man wants more than ordinary sex, Anna snaps. She bashes his head in, hitting him over and over until his face is nothing but a bloody mess. The next morning, she doesn’t remember a thing.

The detective investigating the murder is transfixed by Anna, and they begin a hesitant love affair. But as more and more evidence points to Anna, and her memory of that fateful night comes creeping back, this budding romance may take a turn for the worse.

Every person who touches Anna’s life is a real human–there’s not a single “stock character” in the novel. There’s George, the divorced swinger who shares his apartment, and his drug stash, with his seventeen year old son. The boy’s life is even more pathetic than Anna’s. There’s Freda Miller, an eighty year old widow who talks to nobody except her long dead husband, who advises her not to get involved in the grisly murder next door.

Bernie Bernstein, a Police Inspector, who knows he should leave homicide investigations to his detectives, is drawn to the case in the beginning as a way to take his mind off his own problems. His wife has kicked him out and he’s living in a lonely hotel room. I liked Bernie a lot, and would love to read more of his cases.

I, Anna is a mesmerizing read as a thriller. Since it was written in 1984, it also gives a fascinating, clear-eyed view of life thirty years ago. Back then, women used to say, “we’ve come a long way, baby”. ┬áThis novel shows how much further we have come since then. Highly recommended.
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