Tag Archives: Imperfect Birds

This is a Life

Every Last One: A Novel by Anna Quindlen

“Most of our fears are petty and small…  Only our love is monumental.”

In Every Last One, author Anna Quindlen gives us a monumental – yet quietly reserved – look at the life of a typical American family, before and after the family is rocked by an unimaginable tragedy.   This is the story of Mary Beth Latham, a basically stay-at-home mom who operates a landscaping business; her ophthalmologist husband, Glen; daughter Ruby; and her fraternal twin sons, Max and Alex.   Although we observe their lives through Mary Beth’s eyes, we come to know Ruby the best.   She’s a senior in high school who is about to leave the nest for a yet-to-be-determined college.

Mary Beth at one point ponders whether it is a woman’s role to persevere after everyone she’s loved has left her.   But she thinks about this at a time when everyone she loves remains close to her.   This is when she’s the woman who worries about the smallest of concerns, when her life goes on as normal.   But normal is not lasting…

Daughter Ruby has known her boyfriend Kiernan since childhood, and he becomes obsessed with her and all of the Lathams.   Kiernan eventually becomes less of a boyfriend to Ruby than a stalker, and someone who uses any excuse to keep company with the Lathams.   Ruby realizes that she’s going to have to reject Kiernan soon and before she departs for her future life.

And then tragedy strikes and Mary Beth must become a survivor.   Everyone around her fails at offering comfort; instead they impose their expectations on her as to how they believe she should act.   Eventually Mary Beth comes to realize – as we all must – that she cannot live her life in a manner that pleases others.   She simply must continue, even if the reason for doing so is not completely clear.

“It’s all I know how to do now.   This is my life.   I am trying.”

It is impossible to describe the nature of the tragedy that Mary Beth experiences without ruining the story, and this summary does not disclose it.   Suffice it to say that when it occurs the reader will think that the story is over.   In the hands of a less skilled writer it would be.   But Quindlen is at her best in writing the tale of a woman who is strong when the world believes she has been stripped of the reasons to continue living.

In the end, this novel tells us that you never know what you may be capable of until the situation is there, staring you in the face.   In Mary Beth, we find a protagonist who is a stronger person than she ever believed herself capable of being, back when life was relatively untroubled and easy.

“The silence is as big as the sky…”

This is the first novel I have read by Anna Quindlen, but it has led me to develop what I will call The Anna/Anne Rule.   If you wish to read fine fiction, you can’t go wrong by picking a novel from any one of three very talented authors:  Anna Quindlen, Anne Lamott, and Anne Tyler.   Each is quite gifted and each reminds us to treasure the things we all too often take for granted in life.

Perhaps these three writers are among the very things we should treasure.

Highly recommended.

This is a preview-review of a novel that will be released on Tuesday, April 13, 2010.   An advance review copy was received from Random House.   A revised review of Every Last One will soon be posted on this site.

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Birds

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott

I try to write the books I would love to come upon…   Anne Lamott

I love the way Anne Lamott writes.   She writes like Anne Tyler (Noah’s Compass, Breathing Lessons, The Accidental Tourist, Digging to America) with a professor’s seriousness about life, but a child’s smile.   Life scares Lamott but she keeps the bogey men away by writing about people who are like her, except that maybe they have just a bit more courage.   Or maybe they don’t.

Imperfect Birds is a novel about a family, about mother Elizabeth Ferguson, her second husband James and her daughter Rosie, a senior in high school in Marin County.   Elizabeth and James worship Rosie as they simultaneously count the days until she’ll leave for college so that they can stop worrying about her.   “…life with most teenagers was like having a low-grade bladder infection.   It hurt but you had to tough it out.”

Rosie’s been a straight-A student until, as a 17-year-old senior, she begins getting Bs in even her best subjects.   That would not be much of a disappointment for other students, but there’s a reason she’s coming undone.   She’s using drugs, of almost every variety, to the point where even her extremely forgiving mother can no longer ignore what’s happening.   “…(Elizabeth) had a conviction now that when she thought something was going on, it was.”   This also means that a mother’s worst fears are coming true:  “I was afraid of how doomed you would be as a parent.”

The title, of course, refers to imperfect people – people who have lost the ability to fly straight.   Elizabeth is too forgiving of her daughter’s faults for too long.   James is too judgmental and too quick to prescribe a harsh remedy for his stepdaughter’s problems.   Rosie, who lost her father to cancer years before, is young and wants to enjoy life until…   Until she finds that her drug abuse has left her dreamless and with a heart “like a little dead animal.”

Rosie also wants to be loved by someone other than her mother and step-father, which is why she creates fantasies about one of her male instructors and later becomes involved with someone older.   Eventually a decision has to be made…   Will Rosie’s parents save Rosie from herself or will they step aside and let her self-destruct before her life even really begins?

If this was the work of a less-talented writer, the reader might be tempted to take a guess at the ending and put the book down prematurely.   But Lamott is one of the best writers we have – about this there can be little doubt.   So this story feels like a gift – one to be savored and treasured – and will be appreciated by any reader who does not make a claim to perfection in his or her own life.Highly recommended.   An advance review copy was provided by Riverview Books.   Imperfect Birds will be released on April 6, 2010.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.   I’ll meet you there.”   Rumi    

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