She fluffed her yellow curls around her face and raised her eyebrows at her reflection, she arranged oranges in a turquoise bowl, she smoothed crisp white sheets before tucking me in when I was hot with fever, she cut lumps of butter into pots of cream of mushroom soup.Sometimes, my mother stayed in her gardens until it was dark and my siblings and I called out that we were hungry; sometimes, she clenched her jaw; sometimes she swerved her car out of the driveway too quickly, cigarette smoke trailing behind her. She yelled when we were packing up the house to go on vacation, she yelled when I was sullen at breakfast, not responding brightly enough to her too loud When my older boy cousins were invited to the adult table at Thanksgiving for the first time (they were newly minted teenagers), I sat at the wobbly folding table and seethed.
One of Anne’s biggest triggers is being called ugly, but even then, I knew her “ugly” was not real ugly.
She is ugly-duckling ugly: the girl in a rom-com rendered “nerdy” by glasses, the girl who emerges shockingly beautiful once she lets down her hair and takes off those glasses.
It seemed fitting then that Anne should no longer be central to the action.
What else was left for her to fight for and against once submerged in the happy waters of domesticity?
As a girl, I devoured these descriptions of Leslie’s beauty; not stopping to remove the bones, chew on the fat, or think about how it tasted.
I couldn’t wait until the penultimate scene when she would be given the reward for beauty—a wedding dress and cooing babies to make her perfectly happy. She craves noise: “I love to come [to the sea] just after a storm—like this.I watched from my seat in the kitchen as they slouched in the fancy dining room chairs and imagined how much better suited I would’ve been in their place.He muttered something into his mashed potatoes, and my anger grew warmer inside my chest.I was full of interesting thoughts and feelings and was just waiting for someone to notice.I had written a story that very morning about a girl magically transformed into a birch tree.Did her domestic duties prevent her from ever having the time to ask herself what she wanted?I’m angry that when I was a young girl, books taught me that to be a good woman is to be a quiet woman, a content woman, a woman subdued.Leslie made me feel like I could embrace the noise of my anger, dance with it, without worrying about what the rest of the world might think.Leslie ultimately marries a dashing writer, and when the avuncular, lovable lighthouse keeper sees the newly wed Leslie sitting with Anne, he places his hand on both their heads and praises them: “Two good, sweet women. But at thirty-six, the aftertaste leaves me hollow.I thought of my mother and her struggle to find peace in those same waters, and later, when I read bits of But at eleven, I rarely questioned my mother’s rage, never wondered if she may have wanted something outside the domestic domain.I looked to Anne instead, and she taught me that it was ok to be angry as a girl, but once older, anger could be wrapped up with a tidy, beautiful bow, because motherhood and domesticity should make a good woman happy. I’m troubled that she is better suited for beauty and happiness once she adheres to certain societal expectations.