By Anna Quindlen
Random House, 2010
She’s done it again. In Every last One best-selling author Anna Quindlen offers yet another poignant mixture of panache and pathos as she traces the effects of seemingly inconsequential choices and actions that turn out to be life-altering.
Every may get off to a slow start, but its gathers steam quickly as we’re introduced to Mary Beth Latham, husband Glen and their three incredibly average teenage kids: popular over-achiever Alex; introverted, morose Max; and independent, free-spirited Ruby. Neck-deep in “the usual” – proms, soccer games, high school angst, sibling rivalries, curfew, family dinners and sibling spats – this “typical” suburban family turns out to be anything but. Just about the time the reader starts feeling lost in the dull monochrome of what could be the average American family – as in, ‘been there, done that’ – Quindlen tosses us a curve. A big one. The pacing is perfect.
The rest of this remarkable book focuses on how Mary Beth and her girlfriends such as no-nonsense Nancy and “English rose” Olivia help her cope with an immense tragedy. We also discover what’s eating Mary Beth’s former friend, Deborah. Like the consummate storyteller she is, Quindlen weaves a rich tapestry of roles and relationships that are almost excruciatingly authentic.
Besides the carefully crafted plot and three-dimensional characters, the dormant strength of Every Last One – a phrase uttered by a police officer on one tragic New Year’s Eve – lies in its “every person” appeal. Readers may feel they know the Lathams. Maybe this ophthalmologist’s family is their neighbor, colleague, coach, or their kids’ favorite hang-out site. Or maybe it’s them. This complicated, beautifully drawn story of struggle, survival, unspeakable loss and love is weft as tight as a Persian rug, and is just as exquisite. I read the LP version (385 pages) cover to cover in a day and a half.
Full of unexpected twists and turns, Every Last One is another stellar work of fiction like the kind we’ve come to expect from Quindlen. Much of its strength lies in sturdy characters, believable dialogue and its subtle message of hope. This one’s a keeper.
Coming soon: A review of the autobiographical Lessons from the Mountain: What I Learned from Erin Walton, by Mary McDonough.