Ann Workman is smart but naïve, a misfit who's traveled from rural Kentucky to graduate school in the transformative years of the late 1960s. Then she meets Jim. She doesn't attend Stanford as planned. Many years later, Ann recalls this time of innocence—and her own obsession with Jimmy—as she faces another life crisis. Seeking escape from her problems, she tries to imagine where she might be if she had chosen differently all those years ago.
...vibrant ... Dear Ann steers clear of politics; this is not a war novel. Mason is more invested in charting Ann’s inner life as a passionate disciple of literature and how a first great love casts a shadow over the rest of her life ... a crisp collage, the whole of a life greater than the sum of its parts. Mason’s in complete command, from the alternate-reality premise right to the shocking plot twist at the end. Despite its serious themes, Dear Ann is a limpid, riveting read, set in a deceptively light register
a series of letters in the midst of Ann’s fantastical ideas about where her life could have gone. This format gives Bobbie Ann Mason a chance to concoct a sweet love story but also wrestle with the possibilities of the road not taken, as well as the chance to find a gold ticket in what is real ... The ’60s, the music, the drugs, the clothing, the ideas are all so enticing, and even the inclusion of the hard facts about the Vietnam War gives the era a sheen of glowing perfection that seems wrong for Ann’s Kentucky upbringing (her mother’s letters to her about life back on the farm are interspersed with the other letters she uses to create a timeline). It feels as if there is a depth missing here in place of gentle reflection and surface-area fantasy. However, Mason does a good job of accessing the actual past and editing it to make the most impact on her characters ... a perfect book for quarantine as we think about what has been, what will now not be, and what we now most hope for in all of our lives.