In her newest novel, Anna In-Between, Elizabeth Nunez explores the complexity of relationships between parents and grown children as well as the delicate nature of a marriage and the complexity of place. This moving novel charts the many obstacles that arise when an adult child becomes the caretaker for a parent. Anna is a Caribbean-American in her forties visiting her folks on the island of her childhood when she learns that her mother, Beatrice Sinclair, has cancer—and not just the beginning of cancer, but a fully developed and bleeding tumor that has been ignored by both John, her father, and her mother for quite some time.
Anna cannot comprehend such an avoidance of this life-threatening illness and spends much of the novel in upheaval over the decidedly cautious ways her parents seem to relate. She does not understand their patterns, and she struggles to find a correlation between her own feelings about relationships and the marriage her parents share. In some ways, what her parents see as quiet respect for each other is viewed by Anna merely as caution and fear. She now lives in America where marriage can be temporal and she sees her parents’ restraint as weakness rather than strength.
A sadness and fury falls over Anna as she comes to realize that Beatrice hides from her sleeping husband in a darkened bathroom to say nightly prayers over the rosary. This is her mother’s manner of attending to the illness. Anna’s anger is deepened by John’s admittance that he knew of the tumor, but stayed quiet out of respect for his wife’s privacy. Nunez writes through the view of the father, “Privacy matters so much he will guard his wife’s secret even from herself.”
In a way, Anna’s parents do not have to accept the terrifying potential of the illness if they do not discuss its presence. They may carry on with their quiet and pleasant life in chosen ignorance. Avoidance seems to be a theme in the novel, as Anna’s mother will not go to America for treatment because Blacks are mistreated in the country. While Anna struggles to defend America, she finds herself reviewing the many ways racism runs deep in her new country, and is torn apart by memories of the racism that defined her childhood on a Caribbean island under British rule.
Anna In-Between outlines the many ways Anna cannot comprehend her parents, and sometimes cannot understand herself. She lives torn between the island of her homeland, its tropical mannerisms that revive precious memories, and the life she has built as an American. With starkly poignant language, Nunez paints a picture of Anna’s confusion about her place between these two worlds and how to understand her bond with both lives.
Anna In-Between carries a heavy weight, but is written with a light hand. Nunez knows just how to paint a picture with both depth and breadth while remaining accessible in her use of language. The novel tells a poignant tale that will bring out feelings of intensity for the reader, and these strong emotions are well worth the time invested.