April 12, 2010
Every Last One
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
2010 Random House
Finished on 4/4/10
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)
ARC - On sale April 13, 2010
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC from publisher
In this breathtaking and beautiful novel, #1 New York Times bestselling author Anna Quindlen creates an unforgettable portrait of a mother, a father, a family, and the explosive, violent consequences of what seem like inconsequential actions.
Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother whose three teenage children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener or even her life as the wife of a doctor. Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount. [Spoiler Removed] [...] a testament to the power of a woman's love and determination and to the invisible line of hope and healing that connects one human being to another.
Ultimately, as rendered in Anaa Quindlen's mesmerizing prose, Every Last One is a novel about facing every last one of the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, about living a life we never dreamed we'd have to live but must be brave enough to try.
I love Anna Quindlen's books. I've read her short essays (Being Perfect, Loud and Clear) and most of her novels (Object Lessons, One True Thing, Black and Blue, Blessings) and was thrilled to receive an ARC of her latest book. Quindlen has such a way with words, describing the most mundane and ordinary events of daily life in ways that make these things seem not only interesting, but important and compelling. I always find myself feeling as though she's observed my own life or has eavesdropped on conversations between me and my friends or my husband. Somehow she seems to have her finger on the sometimes erratic pulse of family relationships, and I believe Every Last One is her best effort yet.
As much as I love Quindlen's writing, I've really struggled with this particular review. It is nearly impossible to explain why this book affected me as it did without giving away any spoilers. And yet, I need to say that this novel blew me away like none other I've read. I rarely stay up late reading, but I had come down with a terrible cold and was having a tough time falling asleep, so I grabbed this book and headed down to the couch, fully expecting to fall asleep after 30 minutes or so. Nope. I stayed up until close to 3 a.m., completely swept away by Quindlen's amazing story.
It's a story about a family and the sort of tragedy that one might think "could only happen to other people." The sort of horrific tale that one might hear about on CNN. And as Kate Medina (Random House's executive vice president) states in her letter to the readers of this ARC, I, too, was just "as shocked as Mary Beth is when her carefully managed life explodes."
I didn't just get a lump in my throat or a tear in my eye. I cried as if the members of the Latham family were people I knew personally. It felt as though Quindlen had peeked inside my heart; her descriptions of Mary Beth's shock and disbelief centered around the incident are spot on.
Quindlen's characters are so completely realized and the dialogue so believable, you'll wonder if this is really a work of fiction.
I love the simple details of a familiar life as a wife and mother:
This is my life: The alarm goes off at five-thirty with the murmuring of a public-raadio announcer, telling me that there has been a coup in Chad, a tornado in Texas. My husband stirs briefly next to me, turns over, blinks, and falls back to sleep for another hour. My robe lies at the foot of the bed, printed cotton in the summer, tufted chenille for the cold. The coffeemaker comes on in the kitchen below as I leave the bathroom, go downstairs in bare feet, pause to put away a pair of boots left splayed in the downstairs back hallway and to lift the newspaper from the back step. The umber quarry tiles in the kitchen were a bad choice; they are always cold. I let the dog out of her kennel and put a cup of kibble in her bowl. I hate the early mornings, the suspended animation of the world outside, the veil of black and then the oppressive gray of the horizon along the hills outside the French doors. But it is the only time I can rest without sleeping, think without deciding, speak and hear my own voice. It is the only time I can be alone. Slightly less than an hour each weekday when no one makes demands.
and I love Quindlen's description of spring weather:
Laundry is my life, and meals, and school meetings and games and recitals. I choose a cardigan sweater and put it on the chest at the foot of the bed. It is late April, nominally spring, but the weather is as wild as an adolescent mood, sun into clouds into showers into storms into sun again.
The authenticity of Quindlen's take on motherhood, on family, and on love and loss, is incredibly affecting. You cannot read Quindlen without feeling as though she has peeked into your life—or possibly that you've been allowed to peek into hers.
I have no excuse for my own tears. In the way of women my age, I increasingly count my blessings aloud, as though if other people acknowledge them they'll be enough; three wonderful children, a long and happy marriage, good home, pleasurable work. And if below the surface I sense that one child is poised to flee and another is miserable, that my husband and I trade public pleasantries and private minutiae, that my work depends on the labor of men who think I'm cheating them—none of that is to be dwelled on. Besides, none of that has anything to do with my tears. If I were pressed, I would have to say that they are the symptom of some great loneliness, as free-floating and untethered to everyday life as a tornado is to the usual weather. It whirls through, ripping and tearing, and then I'm in the parking lot of the supermarket, wiping my eyes, replacing my sunglasses, buying fish and greens for that night's dinner. If anyone asks how things are, I say what we all say: fine, good, great, terrific, wonderful.
I have two selves now, too, the one that goes out in the world and says what sounds like the right things and nods and listens and sometimes smiles, and the real woman, who watches her in wonder, who is nothing but a wound, a wound that will not stop throbbing except when it is anesthetized. I know what the world wants: It wants me to heal. But to heal I would have to forget, and if I forget my family truly dies.
Here is one of the worst things about having someone you love die: It happens again every single morning. The soft web of sleep begins to clear and then, in an instant, your mind asks and answers a dreadful question.
I don't know what to do, or what to do next. The memorial service, the will, the insurance: No one tells you what to do after, when things are supposed to go back to normal. I suppose what comes next is pretend-normal. I feel exhausted thinking about it.
"Thank you for everything, Mom. You've been a rock through all of this."
I've taken her by surprise, and she looks down. Finally she says, "I have a great admiration for how you've handled yourself, Mary Beth. You've been very strong."
"Did I have a choice?"
"That's not the point. Lots of people would have fallen apart in this situation." I wonder how falling apart would feel different from this. I can't believe it would be worse.
END OF SPOILERS
Anna Quindlen's authentic voice and compelling narrative create a beautifully rendered story of one family's tragedy, a tragedy that none of us is ever prepared to face. I simply could not put this book down; I read it in less than two days. And now, one week later, I find myself thinking about the characters and all they endured.