Thursday, June 21, 2012

Every Last One

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
Random House Publishing, 2010
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400065745


Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged 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. And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence.

My Thoughts:
The first half of Every Last One by Anna Quindlen follows an ordinary suburban family in the mundane routine of their everyday life. Mary Beth Latham is the narrator. She runs a landscaping business and is the wife of Glen, an ophthalmologist. Most importantly, however, she is the doting mother of seventeen year old Ruby, and fourteen year old twins, Max and Alex. When Ruby breaks up with her long-time boyfriend, Kirenan, Mary Beth is concerned, but she is much more focused on the depression of her son Max, who is feeling overshadowed by Alex's athletic abilities and accomplishments. Over half way through the novel an act of violence occurs that irrevocably changes Mary Beth's life.

While Quindlen is a very good writer, I just have to say that the first half of this novel bored me to tears and the characters annoyed me. There - I've said it. I knew from the descriptions of this novel that there would be a huge twist, but man did Mary Beth and her friends annoy me. I guess I might as well admit that I would not seek a friendship with any of these women - before or after the tragedy - and that does color my feeling about Every Last One. Also it seems that someone would notice Kirenan's odd behavior.

So, I kept reading the novel long past when I normally would have set it aside knowing that there was a big plot twist coming. Was it worth it? Um... yeah, I guess. The writing is quite good. Even if Mary Beth and the other characters annoyed me, the quality of the writing kept me reading. The second half of the novel actually redeemed the first part.
Highly recommended - if you can make it through the first half


This is my life: The alarm goes off at five-thirty with the murmuring of a public-radio 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.  opening

“Okay, okay,” Alex says irritably. Max says nothing, just lurches from bed and begins to pull off an oversized T-shirt as he stumbles into the bathroom.
There is a line painted down the center of their room. Two years ago they came to me, at a loose end on a June afternoon, and demanded the right to choose their own colors. I was distracted, and I agreed. They did a neat job, measured carefully, put a tarp on the floor. Alex painted his side light blue, Max lime green.  pg. 4-5

I open Ruby’s door, and although it doesn’t make a sound—she has oiled the hinges, I think, probably with baby oil or bath oil or something else nonsensically inappropriate, so we will not hear it creak in the nighttime—she says, “I’m up.” I stand there waiting, because if I take her word for it she will wrap herself in warmth again and fall into the long tunnel of sleep that only teenagers inhabit, halfway to coma or unconsciousness. “Mom, I’m up,” she shouts, and throws the bedclothes aside and begins to bundle her long wavy hair atop her head. “Can I get dressed in peace, please? For a change?” She makes it sound as though I constantly let a bleacher full of spectators gawk as she prepares to meet the day. pg. 5

Every day, with few variations - snow, minor illness, the failure of the paper to arrive, a lost backpack, a sleepover that's left us one, or two, or sometimes even three kids shy of the usual full set - every day is like this. Average. Ordinary. More of less. pg. 11

They are the kind of boys who may well grow up to invent something astonishing, to teach in a prestigious college, to cure cancer. Right now, they have hard lives. pg. 21

Even when we're honest with one another, we tread carefully; the quickest way to lose a friend is to suggest that she is a bad mother, or to suggest that her children have problems, which amounts to the same thing. pg. 33

Two years ago, I was worried all the time about Ruby. Now it's Max. I don't think it will ever be Alex. pg. 57


Unknown said...

I had VERY similar feelings after reading this book. I can't remember how I felt about the characters, but I definitely remember the first half being SO BORING!

Lori L said...

Three things kept me reading: the quality of the writing,I knew there was a huge plot twist coming, and other reviewers loved it so much. But we agree, the first half was, SO BORING!