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.
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.