Anjou Lovett was conceived under a pear tree (though she escaped being named D’Anjou because her father didn’t think a child should have an apostrophe in their name). Her father, Jack, was a poetic sort who used to talk about taking their mother to Capri to eat gelato and swim in the Grotto. He would talk like that when he was living at home, anyway, with Anjou, her sister and mother. Until Anjou was sixteen, her father was an inconstant presence in her life, flitting in and out at his own whims.
When Anjou is sixteen, her mother is killed in a car accident, and Jack leaves his two daughters in the hands of their Aunt Vicky. All of this is told in brief flashbacks as most of Beth Goldner’s funny, poignant novel The Number We End Up With takes place sometime near present day. Anjou is now in her early thirties and has lost her boyfriend and her high paying job. Stress brings out a compulsive need in Anjou to relate to her world in numbers (she has called, and hung up on, her father fifty-three times in the past twenty-one days), which makes her temporary job as an enumerator for the U.S. Census a perfect interim job.
Unfortunately, she’s also using this perfect interim job to get answers to questions she can’t answer herself. Going house to house, she is asking people such things as “Have you ever wished someone you loved would die?” and “Have you ever cheated on your husband?” and “Is it possible to love two people at the same time?” All of her questions are related to her own life experiences with her father, her sister, and her ex-boyfriend. She gets different reactions from different people. Some usher her into their home and talk for hours. Others slam the door in her face and call her boss to complain. One even slaps her before calling her boss to complain.
Each chapter begins with a house number and street where Anjou is gathering information. From there, it goes wherever Anjou takes it… to the next house, to her next-door neighbor Kip’s house, to the rooms in her memory, to the list of questions she carries in her pocket for her father, to whom she hasn’t spoken in fourteen years.
Beth Goldner writes about things such as loss and human sorrow with a soft touch that brings quiet laughter, even as the heroine sheds quiet tears. One can’t help but love and cheer on Anjou, with her oh-so-real insecurities, quirks and crazy behavior, as she quests for answers and forgiveness and acceptance from others and from herself. The minor characters who come in and out of the book, through Anjou’s pointed and inappropriate questions as well as through her memories, only serve to make the book more tangible, easier to relate to.