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Review: Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen

Pages: 295

Original date of publication: 2010

My edition: 2010 (Random House)

Why I decided to read: heard about it through a Shelf Awareness ad

How I acquired my copy: review copy from the Amazon Vine Program, March 2010

The first hundred pages or so of this book are devoted to describing how ordinary Mary Beth Latham’s life is. The first few pages or so, she describes a day in her ordinary life. She’s the wife of an eye doctor, mother of three children, living in a pretty ordinary (there’s that word again!) town, vaguely located in New England. Then that major act of violence occurs that we’re promised in the book blurb, and her life changes drastically. For the first half of the book, as Mary Beth describes her life, you start to get comfortable with the characters and Mary Beth’s rather bland life. Then, unexpectedly, things change.

The novel is not so much about what actually happens as what you do afterwards. After something truly horrific happens, how do you cope? Several of the characters have lost something or someone valuable to them, and each chooses to handle it in a different way. The book is also about how talking about a tragedy, or not talking about it, has an impact upon everyone involved. In fact, by not talking about the Event, there’s a great deal of uncertainty and tension between Mary Beth and her son, only alleviated when they actually sit down together in the presence of another (I’m being really vague here, but I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t read the book).

There are a couple of minor details that don’t quite add up (Mary Beth owns her own business, for example, but she doesn’t seem to have an office or a proper work space). But in the larger scheme of things, all of that is unimportant. The ending seemed to me to be a bit rushed, too inconclusive for me. However, the strength of the book lies in the messages it conveys. This novel’s themes are so powerful and complicated that I’m not sure I can fully express them here. Quindlen’s writing style takes some getting used to: she writes in the present tense, in short, choppy sentences. But be assured that this is a novel that will have you thinking about it long after you’ve put it down. My mom, who loves Anna Quindlen’s books, saw her speak at the Philadelphia Free Library recently, and Quindlen told her that she thought this was her best book. It’s easy to see why.


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