Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
|Every Last One by Anna Quindlen|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Zoe Page|
|Summary: A mesmerising tale of a grief stricken family and how when it comes to parenting, sometimes even your best is just not good enough.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: May 2011|
|Publisher: Windmill Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Mary Beth Latham is contemplating her average, ordinary life where every day is more of less the same. Would things be better if life were more exciting, varied, newsworthy? Is that a legitimate thing to hope for? They say to be careful what you wish for, and Mary Beth never comes right out and says this is what she wants, but there are hints to this effect.
As we first get to know her she is a mother of three and a wife of one, who fills her days landscaping other people's gardens and decorating the Christmas trees of those too busy or lazy to do it themselves. By the end of the book more than one thing in that sentence has changed, and for Mary Beth life is barely recognisable as the predictable if slightly mundane passage of time it once was. The image on the front of the paperback edition says it all: a broken snow globe with a house inside, the shattered glass giving you an idea of the magnitude of the troubles that will shatter Mary Beth's own life.
This is not a flitty piece of chick lit (though I don't mean that in a derogatory way as I enjoy that genre). Instead, it is a substantial, chewy, sink-your-teeth in story that starts off so ordinary and ends up so, well, extraordinary. I was lost in it from the first chapter and went from reluctantly putting it down to having to have it prised from my hands towards the end. If we'd not been travelling this week I could have devoured it in a day. The writing draws you in like honey attracts flies, and keeps hold of you in just the same way. Though a character flawed in many ways, there is little chance of not identifying with and rooting for Mary Beth and the same goes for her family, because if you take away all the stuff around the edges, this book is about just that: family and the complex relationships that bind its members. It is about parenting, motherhood in particular, and about treading the fine line between codling your offspring for life and giving them the freedom they need to grow.
It's been a long time since I balled my eyes out at a book but from about mid way through this one had me sniffing repeatedly and by the end the pages were wet and I was in no fit state to be seen in public. The writing is so honest, the emotion so raw, and the pain so real that your heart breaks as if it's happening to you rather than some fictitious creation. It is a heart wrenching read that will stay with me for a long time, and is a true reminder that bad things can happen to good people.
The book left me gasping for breath and utterly spellbound, and though the twists and turns are perhaps not the common ones you might find in some books, at no point did I question their probability or authenticity. This is a book of two parts, the 'before' and 'after', but there is no preparation for what is coming and it's as shocking for the reader as it is for the characters. If you look back afterwards, there are some signs but they are deeply hidden and, again like the characters, something you would think nothing of at the time.
If I had one criticism, it would be a minor one to do with how the aftermath of the family's tragedy is dealt with. It may just be the way Mary Beth tries to deal with things, because we only really hear her perspective, but it seemed to me like it would have been a bigger deal and there would have been more of a prolonged reaction that is indicated in the book. While for the most part I was content to focus on the family with only the most minor interactions of their friends, I did feel like the character of Deborah needed further exploration at this point.
I read the back of this book which I believe has been revised since the US release as other reviewers have commented on the spoilers within it. I don't know what that one said, but I do know that the image I had from reading the back of the UK edition did not entirely prepare me for the story that lay ahead. It hints at a problem concerning one character which really is not the focus of the story at all, so I would simply suggest taking this with a pinch of salt, and keeping an open mind as you read.
This is the first book that I have read by Anna Quindlen but it certainly won't be the last and I am very grateful to the publishers for this introduction to such a stellar author.
This is a book like no other, and as such comparisons are hard, but for another book that has gripped me in a similar way recently I would highly recommend Emma Donoghue's Room while for another look at family tragedy, We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver springs to mind.
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen is in the Richard and Judy's Summer Reading List 2011.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.