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Monday, June 28, 2010

Reviewing: Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Mary Beth Latham is the mother of three kids, has a good marriage, and a small thriving landscaping business. Like most mom’s, if you were to ask Mary Beth which of these was the most important and defining role in her life, she’d say it was motherhood. Mary Beth is a good mom, and when one of her kids, Max, sinks into a deep depression, she focuses her concern on him, certain that her other children are doing well. When a horrific act of violence tears her life apart, Mary Beth has to discover a new way to make a life, and the strength, fortitude and love to make it possible.

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen is a notable novel. Initially, I thought the introduction of Mary Beth’s life “before” was a bit drawn out. I kept silently urging the author to get to the point of the story. Then I realized that this was the point. This is a portrait of a loving family, warts and all, with moody kids, tired parents, sniping siblings, loyalty and love. The finely drawn portrayal of this ordinary family when shown in juxtaposition to the “after” is heartbreaking. It’s almost impossible to read this novel without occasionally feeling a twinge of fear, a cold frightened feeling that this is plausible. This terrible thing could happen to almost any family. From there, it isn’t a stretch for the reader to wonder how anyone, including themselves, could endure and begin to live again.

Mary Beth is an interesting character. It's easy to point a finger at her and say, “It was right there…how could you NOT see it?” But then we stop and think, “Oh wait, I think I’d probably do the same exact thing. If my son was that depressed and on the surface the other kids seemed great, I’d most likely focus myself on the one that appeared to be in the most trouble.” Who wouldn’t? In retrospect, the reader can easily see that clues that lead to the tragedy, but hindsight is always 20/20. Quindlen doesn’t sugar coat Mary Beth and her reactions. We are shown a woman who is devastated by loss, and yet trying to survive and interact in a world where social conventions are observed. She is self-aware and realizes that her pain is not something others are comfortable with, and she manages to develop a persona of healing long before she begins to heal. Her interactions with the other characters, major and minor unfold in a realistic and affirming fashion.

Every Last One was a difficult book to read, mostly because of the uncomfortable nature of the subject. But it was ultimately it was time well spent.

(Review copy provided by Random House)

My rating:


bermudaonion said...

A good friend of mine told me she really liked this book but thought it was so sad. It does sound like it will be difficult to read.

Tina said...

I'm still undecided about whether I could handle reading this book, but I do think your review will help immensely in my decision. Hope your next read is a bit lighter.

Cath said...

I liked this book, and I'm glad you did, too. So many people have panned it that I was starting to feel a little self-conscious!

I agree that I wanted it to speed up a little, until I realized that a part of Mary Beth would always be stuck in Before. That's why it was so relevant.

Great review!

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I agree the subject matter in this book was very difficult. It is an emotional book. It's great when you get the feeling the author was trying to convey. I really liked this book.