In Annie Dreaming, how is Carley Eason Evans able to create a complicated plot involving many characters from across several generations and still manage to keep all those balls in the air at the same time? Hard to say, but she manages it like a true word charlatan.
The character who most engaged me was Rick–in all three of his time segments–as Charlie’s big brother, as the Viet Nam prisoner of war and as the returning warrior struggling to find peace and a future after the terror of torture. All those sequences were especially gripping. As soon as Rick had been captured I dreaded the possibility of scenes in which he would be tortured, but when those scenes inevitably came I found they were told in a manner that made the horror of the events bearable. Thanks for that.
Evans floats new characters in and out of her tale with amazing ease and deftness. As example, the memorable, but misguided Methodist preacher, a minor participant whom she sketches in two brief, sharply outlined appearances. Or the instantly engaging Viet Cong nurse whose small kindnesses bring hope to the despairing Rick.
It also is remarkable how Evans sells us on the idea that the siblings Annie and Charlie, although miles apart–perhaps never to see each other again–talk to each other in surreal ways. Then, at the novel’s conclusion, she is able to bring their surreal chats to an expedient and organic end.
Eschewing melodrama, she draws her characters in lifelike tones of gray. None of the people we care about are either fully good nor totally bad. They are like ourselves, and kin the folks who live next door to us. To my delight her women are tough minded, able to bear up under the variety of assaults they face when loving, parenting, working or striving to achieve better lives.
All told Annie Dreaming is a good, satisfying read, a deeply layered story graced with interesting and engaging characters. There is always something going on that we easily are led to care about. This second novel does not seem to have, nor seek, the depth of thought that was so apparent in Evans’s breakout piece, Metal Man Walking. Yet, offering new takes on many of the characters from that earlier work, she spins a fascinating, fast paced, mosaic of a tale.