The Latest Anna Quindlen Success.
by Jo Keroes
Everyone loves Anna Quindlen. I love Anna Quindlen and have since, as only the second woman to have an op ed space in the NYTimes, she chronicled her own life as a working woman and mother and thus mirrored ours. Wise, warm and witty, Quindlen is that unpretentious sort of writer who doesn’t claim to be trafficking in high art. She’s just producing highly readable books about women leading recognizable contemporary lives. Typically, she will take an issue that resonates especially to women – domestic abuse, the tug between independence and caring for a terminally ill parent – and around it construct a narrative filled with recognizable, likeable characters and the sort of telling details that lift it above the prosaic. Her latest, Every Last One appears to follow this form.
It opens on a “normal” suburban family, if by normal you mean affluent and relatively placid, despite the predictable vagaries of domestic life: sibling squabbling and occasional cruelty undergirded by affection, abundant meals served by a mother, Mary Beth, whose successful landscape business permits her easy access to shopping trips with her prickly teen-aged daughter, regular attendance at soccer games and reliable availability for car pools. There’s a decent if distracted opthamologist husband slightly in the background, twin boy middle-schoolers, one a popular smart jock, the other musical and seriously depressed, and a confident, independent poet-daughter whose eating disorder only lasted a moment, all providing the requisite tug and pull of the mother-chld connection. But Quindlen is too smart to be either obvious or this bland. Something must be up. And it is.
Because to be more specific about this would spoil what is meant to be a shock for the reader, I won’t say more, though for me the shock was muted by what felt like its predictability, if not in its particulars, then simply because we’re prepared for it by the very flatness of what precedes it. At one point, Mary Beth asks, “How do you know what’s right in front of you when you’re looking the other way”? The conventionality of the story, had me looking the other way sooner than I was supposed to. All I’ll say, then, is that in its second half, the novel moves in another, darker direction and grows deeper, exploring the intricacies of women’s friendships, the strong and sometimes unexpected ties between adult mother and daughter, the real meaning of a “good” marriage, and the terrible burden of guilt and responsibility. Quindlen fans won’t be disappointed. She’s given them another good read.