Friday, July 7, 2017

Before Everything

Before Everything by Victoria Redel
Penguin Publishing Group: 6/27/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735222571

Before Everything by Victoria Redel is a recommended novel about friendship, life changes, and loss.

The group of five self-named "Old Friends" who first met in grade school is gathering to say goodbye to Anna, a member who is dying. She has fought cancer for years and is now choosing hospice care and no more treatment. Each of the women had a close relationship with Anna, and we view their relationships through their own recollections, marked by their differences and changes across the years. Also in attendance is Reuben, her husband from whom she is separated but they are still friends, a group of women who are the new friends, the women she has been friends with on a daily basis for the past twenty years in Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts, her two brothers, and her children.

Anna, was a math teacher and musician. Her old friends include: Helen, a painter; Ming, a lawyer; Caroline, the caregiver of a sister; and Molly, daughter of a cruel, abusive mother.
recovering addict Helen, now a famous, globe-trotting painter; Ming, a high-powered lawyer whose daughter has a seizure disorder; Caroline, caregiver of a perpetually needy bipolar older sister; and Molly, a lesbian, daughter of a drunken, cruel mother.  Then you have all the Valley friends, etc. It is a densely populated book where individual personalities tend to blur unless you are paying very close attention.

The story alternates between events in the present day with those from the past until everything comes together at the end. There is no great suspense involved as we know Anna is dying right away and that she is refusing any more treatment. The friends are flocking to her for themselves, in reality, because she has made her decision. That makes the book more of an exploration of past events in contrast with the current circumstances.

Although the writing is very good, realistic and descriptive while pulling on your heart strings, we actually learn very little about Anna, her inner life and feeling. We know she's an extrovert to the extreme, a bit self-centered, doesn't like to read, and only makes friends with beautiful women. Why are all these people so enamored of her? I never understood that, and it's kind of important that I do if I'm going to care about her life and death. I'll have to admit that I read to the end of this one rather quickly as I didn't care about these Old Friends and actually felt sorry for the new friends of the last twenty years who were pushed aside when they also needed to say goodbye.

In the end I wasn't quite the right target audience for this one.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Publishing Group.

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