Jenn Ashworth’s debut novel, A Kind of Intimacy, focuses on the life of a woman named Annie. Now, Annie is not exactly a well person. She doesn’t have much going for her either. Her father was abusive and she married early partly to leave home and partly because she doesn’t have anything better to do. She was lucky, more or less, to have met someone who could support her, who wanted to do so, who was kind, and whose worst faults were tending toward the cheap side of thrifty and wanting to have children.
Eventually the demands of family life get to Annie. She kills her baby and husband and moves into a new house across town with little more than her cat, a trove of self-help books, and a file into which she organizes the wisdom from the books into an elaborate system of cross-references she can apply to daily situations. For example, how to get her neighbor’s live-in girlfriend, Lucy, out of the way so that they can realize that they are each others great loves. Obviously, this doesn’t go over very well.
The fact that Annie’s perspective on, well, everything is terribly and tragically wrong slips by most of the characters until it is nearly too late. The reader, however, is permitted access to Annie’s mind. At her housewarming party, Lucy, who is young and occasionally manifests the snobbery of youth, opens a bottle of wine, pours it into a glass, swirls it around, sniffs it and then drinks. Annie sees this and wonders, scornfully, “Did she think I was going to poison her or something?” I think, for me, that was when it clicked, when I got my first jolting sense of what it was like to be Annie. The world, for her, is a somewhat bewildering place where everyone but her seems to have attended some secret meeting where they learned all the rituals and understandings that would mark them off as normal, lovable, sane and special. Annie has missed this meeting but believes she knows enough about it to resent it. Annie also doesn’t doubt her grasp on reality and trusts herself to accurately assess the world.
This is an impressive first novel. There are a few editorial errors: a dress (one important to the plot) turns into a pair of jeans and a minor character’s name changes over the course of a few pages. These are insignificant oversights. Ashworth successfully puts her reader in Annie’s place and, amazingly, the reader is able to see the plausibility of Annie’s thoughts and judgments. The reader also sees just how wrong Annie gets it and cringes at for her. I admit, I found the novel a bit stressful sometimes. Not for any flaw or shortcoming in the story or its presentation, rather, because of the reminder that anyone could be in a position like Annie’s.