Before Everything by Victoria Redel
Penguin Publishing Group: 6/27/17
eBook review copy; 288 pages
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
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
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.
My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Publishing Group.